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Can Sleep Apnea Cause Death?

Posted On February 5, 2014
February 05, 2014

At some point in time during your childhood, you learned about death. Whether a relative passed or a beloved family pet, you started to fear death. You actually even believed that when you went to sleep, come morning you might not wake up. Thankfully, as you got older the fear went away but now it is back. You are worried once again that when you struggle for air during the night you might not live to see the sun rise. Is your newfound fear based in reality? Can sleep apnea cause death?

When people suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), they do not breathe adequately during the night. An obstruction, partial or complete, prevents the proper flow of oxygenated blood from circulating throughout the body. Severity of the condition is determined by the number of episodes that occur during each hour of sleep during the night. Left untreated, OSA increases a person’s risk of life-threatening conditions.

Studies Show that Sleep Apnea Causes Death

According to the America Heart Association, in the United States today, every year anywhere from 180,000 to 450,000 people die due to sudden cardiac death, which for the most part occurs during the day. Due to a problem with electrical signaling, the heart essentially stops beating. In order for the individual to stay alive, treatment must happen within minutes. Definitely a sobering statistic.

Back in 2005, researchers discovered that patients with OSA died during the night from sudden cardiac death. Their study results, which appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that sudden cardiac death incidence peaked in OSA sufferers between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. In addition, the data showed the following sudden cardiac death statistics:

  • Forty-six percent occurrence in individuals with OSA
  • Twenty-five percent by chance alone
  • Twenty-one percent in people who did not have OSA
  • Sixteen percent in the general population

Recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and funded by the National Institutes of Health, a group studied and followed close to 11,000 adults who had undergone a sleep study with 78 percent being diagnosed with OSA. Over the course of 15 years, their data demonstrated the following:

  • One hundred forty-two people experienced sudden cardiac arrest with some being able to be saved and others dying.
  • OSA sufferers showed a significantly greater risk for sudden cardiac death.
  • Low blood oxygen levels, greater than 20 pauses in breathing in an hour (classified as moderate OSA), and being 60 or older also increased sudden cardiac death risk.

Although these studies showed a connection between OSA and sudden cardiac death, a cause and effect relationship has yet to be proven. In addition, more research needs to be conducted to find out whether or not continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) can reduce sudden cardiac death risk as it has been proven to do so with high blood pressure.

Nevertheless, it is vitally important to protect your health and seek an accurate diagnosis if you suspect you might have sleep apnea. Please contact one of our medical concierges today at 1-855-863-4537 or schedule a free consultation.

About Phoebe Ochman

Phoebe Ochman, Director of Communications for Sleep Apnea Treatment Centers of America, manages all content and communications for the company.
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