Obstructive sleep apnea is considered a serious medical condition. Complications may include:

  • Cardiovascular problems. Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that occur during obstructive sleep apnea increase blood pressure and strain the cardiovascular system.

    Many people with obstructive sleep apnea develop high blood pressure (hypertension), which can increase the risk of heart disease.

    The more severe the obstructive sleep apnea, the greater the risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart failure and stroke. In a study, men with obstructive sleep apnea appeared to be at risk of heart failure, but women with obstructive sleep apnea didn't appear to have a higher risk of heart failure.

    People with obstructive sleep apnea are much more likely to develop abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias).

    If there's underlying heart disease, these repeated multiple episodes of low blood oxygen (hypoxia or hypoxemia) could lead to sudden death from a cardiac event.

  • Daytime fatigue. The repeated awakenings associated with obstructive sleep apnea make normal, restorative sleep impossible. People with obstructive sleep apnea often experience severe daytime drowsiness, fatigue and irritability. They may have difficulty concentrating and find themselves falling asleep at work, while watching TV or even when driving.

    Children and young people with obstructive sleep apnea may do poorly in school and commonly have attention or behavior problems.

    Treatment of obstructive sleep apnea can improve these symptoms, restoring alertness and improving quality of life.

  • Complications with medications and surgery. Obstructive sleep apnea also is a concern with certain medications and general anesthesia. These medications, such as sedatives, narcotic analgesics and general anesthesia, relax your upper airway and may worsen your obstructive sleep apnea.

    If you have obstructive sleep apnea, you may experience worse breathing problems after major surgery, especially after being sedated and lying on your back.

    People with obstructive sleep apnea may be more prone to complications after surgery.

    Before you have surgery, tell your doctor if you have obstructive sleep apnea or symptoms related to obstructive sleep apnea. If you have obstructive sleep apnea symptoms, your doctor may test you for obstructive sleep apnea prior to surgery.

  • Eye problems. Some research has found a connection between obstructive sleep apnea and certain eye conditions, such as glaucoma. Eye complications can usually be treated.
  • Sleep-deprived partners. Loud snoring can keep those around you from getting good rest and eventually disrupt your relationships. It's not uncommon for a partner to choose to sleep in another room. Many bed partners of people who snore are sleep deprived as well.

People with obstructive sleep apnea may also complain of memory problems, morning headaches, mood swings or feelings of depression, and a need to urinate frequently at night (nocturia).

Jun. 15, 2013

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