It’s estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, the majority of them undiagnosed. Untreated sleep apnea can lead to a range of cardiovascular problems, including stroke, high blood pressure, and sudden cardiac death, as well as metabolic problems like obesity and diabetes.
A recent study of 4,000 bank employees in Spain, published in the journal Sleep, found that those who slept less than six hours a night were 27 percent more likely to have atherosclerosis (the disease process that causes cardiovascular diseases) throughout their body. And those with poor quality sleep were 34 percent more likely to have evidence of it than people who sleep soundly.
Obstructive sleep apnea is increasingly being identified as a contributor to heart attacks. In one high-profile example, a coroner’s report listed sleep apnea as among the contributors in the death of actress Carrie Fisher, who suffered a massive fatal heart attack in 2016.
And this danger to the heart can occur no matter what your age. A study published in the journal ERJ Open Research found that sleep apnea could even be the cause of seemingly healthy young athletes dying from a sudden and unexplained heart attack. Symptoms of sleep apnea include:
• Loud snoring
• Excessive daytime sleepiness
• Sudden awakening accompanied by shortness of breath
• Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
• Coughing or gagging upon awakening
• Morning headache
• Difficulty staying asleep
• Problems paying attention or focusing
Sleep apnea is often thought of as a problem that afflicts overweight middle-age men, but it can occur in anyone no matter what their body build. It also occurs in women, who tend to be overlooked. If you think you might have sleep apnea, ask your doctor for a referral to a reputable sleep clinic.
There are a variety of treatments available.
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