How Untreated Sleep Apnea Can Lead to Sudden Cardiac Death?

Sudden Cardiac Death

Did you know that choking, snoring, shortness of breath, daytime drowsiness and multiple episodes of nighttime waking are all indications that you may be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea? OSA has been linked as a precursor to multiple health conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and even Sudden Cardiac Death.

According to results from a long-term study, 7 out of 100 people suffering from sleep apnea may die from sudden cardiac death if their OSA is not treated.

What is Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) and why is it implicated in OSA?

SCD is an unforeseen loss of life due to a demise in heart function. This is the leading cause of death in the United States and has led to 4.5 lac annual deaths. Adults in their mid-30s and mid-40s without any known cardiac risk factors are at risk of SCD.

Several studies have unraveled a factor in SCD: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). People who are either undiagnosed or untreated for Obstructive Sleep Apnea have many episodes of irregular heartbeats. They develop an impaired wake-up mechanism due to the frequent episodes of breathing cessation. This leads to low brain oxygen levels that can turn fatal.

Empirical Evidence which links Obstructive Sleep Apnea to Sudden Cardiac Death

A five-year study, which examined 10,000 adults were referred to sleep disorder clinics. The study found Obstructive Sleep Apnea as the leading cause of SCD. Men were more at risk than women.

Patients suffering from Obstructive Sleep Apnea do not get restful nights, neither are their nights safe. They run a higher risk of SCD around midnight. The likelihood of reviving a patient who experiences sudden cardiac arrest at night is low and the chance of seeking appropriate help is unlikely.

According to a Wisconsin sleep study that spanned more than 18 years, the number of deaths was higher among people who had Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Gender, body mass index, age, and sleepiness symptoms were not found to be recurrent factors in this study. The number of choking episodes and pauses in breath were used as measurements for learning how serious this condition was and how high the risk was for SCD. The study findings indicate that the fewer the breathing pauses, the higher are the survival chance for people with mild to moderate OSA. In people with severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea who had 30 plus pause episodes, the risk of death was higher.

How does Continuous Positive Airway Pressure therapy prevent health problems linked with OSA?

Taking preventative measures is one of the best ways to counter serious conditions related to Obstructive Sleep Apnea. CPAP is perhaps the leading therapy for OSA as it reduces nighttime stress. This is evident from the reduction in stress hormones and daytime blood pressure levels. The end result is a minimal risk of developing heart disorders.

Patients who seek diagnosis and treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea, effectively reduce their chances of SCD. According to a 7-year study that examined people using CPAP, no deaths were reported in individuals with OSA who used CPAP. There was a 7% death rate due to SCD among people who had untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

If you experience sleep apnea symptoms such as loud or disruptive snoring, choking or gasping for air during sleep, shortness of breathlessness, and multiple nighttime wakefulness episodes, then you must consult a sleep specialist who may recommend a sleep study in order to diagnose you with sleep apnea. If diagnosed, the sleep specialist may recommend CPAP and lifestyle changes in order to reduce your chance of developing SCD and other health-related problems.

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