Sleep Apnoea: The Reality and The Risks

Sleep Apnoea: The Reality and The Risks

Snoring is the cause of many a tense night-time exchange between bed partners, but what causes it and is it just an annoying trait or a possible symptom of something more serious?


Causes of sleep apnoea

Sleep apnoea, or obstructive sleep apnoea, is believed to affect around 15 million people in the UK. It is due to the relaxation and narrowing of the walls of the throat during sleep which causes loud snoring or heavy breathing that can have a detrimental effect on your life and that of others in your household. Twice as many men as women are affected and it is most common in people over the age of 40.

Around 45% of people with the condition have symptoms, ranging from moderate to severe. Fewer than half of them receive treatment of any kind, yet there are a number of effective treatment options, and simple lifestyle changes are known to greatly improve the symptoms.


Health risks

If you or someone you know has sleep apnoea, it’s a good idea not to just “put up with it” but to talk to your doctor. That’s because the condition increases your risk of other, more serious health problems, including:

  • Heart disease – Sleep apnoea is linked to an increased risk of heart attacks. The exact reasons for this are unclear but it may be due to low oxygen levels, as the condition interferes with your body’s ability to take in oxygen and disrupts blood flow to the arteries and brain. Increased stress due to sleep disruption may also be a factor.
  • Strokes and atrial fibrillation (where the heart beats too fast) are also associated with sleep apnoea.
  • High blood pressure can be made worse by sleep apnoea. The combined stress of waking up frequently and too little oxygen causes an increase in hormone levels, which can make blood pressure rise.
  • Type 2 diabetes is common among people with sleep apnoea. Experts estimate more than 80% of people with type 2 diabetes also have sleep apnoea. Not getting enough sleep is known to inhibit the body’s use of insulin which may be a contributory factor. Obesity increases a person’s risk of both conditions.
  • Weight gain – While being overweight increases your risk of sleep apnoea, unfortunately having sleep apnoea also makes it harder to lose weight. Fat deposits in your neck can make it harder to breathe when you are asleep and disrupted sleep means your body is less efficient at turning the food you eat into energy, making you more prone to weight gain. Sleep deprivation can make your body release more of the hormone ghrelin, which can increase cravings for carbs and sugar.
  • Among the other possible problems faced by people with sleep apnoea are an increased risk of car accidents, acid reflux and the possibility of more asthma attacks among adult asthma sufferers.


Treatments for sleep apnoea

Treatments offered will vary depending on how severely someone is affected. Changing your lifestyle can help to relieve many of the symptoms of sleep apnoea, for example losing weight, giving up smoking, cutting back on alcohol and improving your overall health and fitness levels. You may also benefit from sleeping on your side rather than on your back.

Many people with the condition benefit from using a machine called CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) which comprises a mask attached to a hose that can help you to breath better. There are also other ways to keep your airways open including using a mandibular advancement device. In severe cases, you may be offered surgery, such as a tonsillectomy or an adenoidectomy.

Treatment for sleep apnoea will not only help you to sleep better but it will also reduce your risk of other health problems.

Talk to us for more details.


Expert help is available to help you to better understand, manage and improve symptoms related to your respiratory health.

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