Untreated sleep apnea can increase the chance of having high blood pressure and even a heart attack or stroke. Untreated sleep apnea can also increase the risk of diabetes and the risk for work-related accidents and driving accidents.
It is estimated that more than 12 million Americans have obstructive sleep apnea. More than half the people who have sleep apnea are overweight, and most snore heavily.
Adults most likely to have sleep apnea include those who:
- Snore loudly
- Are overweight
- Have high blood pressure
- Have a family history of sleep apnea
- Have decreased size of the airways in their nose, throat, or mouth.
Narrowed airways can be caused by the shape of these structures or by medical conditions causing congestion in these areas, such as hay fever or other allergies.
Sleep apnea is more common in men than in women. One out of every 25 middle-aged men and 1 out of every 50 middle-aged women has sleep apnea that causes them to be very sleepy during the day. The condition is more common in African Americans, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders. If someone in your family has sleep apnea, you are more likely to develop it than someone without a family history of the condition.
Obstructive sleep apnea can also occur in children who snore. If your child snores, you should discuss it with your child's doctor or healthcare provider.
Key information about this condition includes the following:
- Sleep apnea is a common breathing disorder that can be very serious.
- With sleep apnea, your breathing stops or gets very shallow for periods of 10 seconds or longer many times during the night.
- Most people with this condition snore loudly on a regular basis.
- Loud snoring and choking or gasping during sleep and being sleepy during the day are the most common signs of sleep apnea.
- Having a physical exam and providing your doctor with information about your sleep will help to make a diagnosis. Your doctor may also want you to have special sleep tests.
- Treatment for sleep apnea is aimed at restoring regular nighttime breathing and relieving symptoms such as loud snoring and daytime sleepiness. Treatment will also help with associated medical problems (such as high blood pressure) and reduce the patient's risk of heart attack and stroke.