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7 Ways Sleep Apnea Can Hurt Your Health

Snoring may seem funny, but if it’s the result of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), it’s no joke. The condition can raise your risk of other health problems like high blood pressure and diabetes. It can even make you more dangerous on the road. But when you treat sleep apnea, you can ease, or even cure, some of these issues.

Here are seven health problems you might face if you have OSA:

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Living With Sleep Apnea

When Dave Williams fell asleep while stopped at a red light 12 years ago, he had to face up to a problem. "I was falling asleep at inappropriate times," says Williams, then 45, a business consultant in Cordova, Tenn. His doctor diagnosed obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition in which breathing pauses repeatedly during sleep, and symptoms include loud snoring at night and sleepiness during the day. "People who have sleep apnea typically don't have any problems with their breathing while they're...

Read the Living With Sleep Apnea article > >

1. High blood pressure. If you already have it, obstructive sleep apnea can make it worse. Waking up often during the night can cause your hormone systems to go into overdrive, which boosts your blood pressure levels. When you can’t breathe well in your sleep, the level of oxygen in your blood drops, which may add to the problem. 

Treatment does make a difference, though. Some people with high BP who get help for sleep apnea can cut back on their blood pressure medications.

2. Heart disease. People with OSA are more likely to have heart attacks. 

The causes may be low oxygen or the stress of waking up often. Stroke and atrial fibrillation – a problem with the rhythm of your heartbeat -- are also linked with the condition. 

Sleep apnea disrupts how your body takes in oxygen, which makes it hard for your brain to control how blood flows in your arteries and the brain itself.

3. Type 2 diabetes. Sleep apnea is common among people with this condition -- up to 80% of them have OSA. 

Obesity raises a person’s risk for both disorders. Although studies haven’t shown a clear link between sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes, not getting enough shut-eye can keep your body from using insulin properly, which leads to diabetes.

4. Weight gain. Extra pounds raise your chances of getting sleep apnea, and the condition also makes it harder to slim down. 

When you’re overweight, you can have fatty deposits in your neck that block breathing at night. On the flip side, sleep apnea can make your body release more of the hormone ghrelin, which makes you crave carbs and sweets. And when you're tired all the time, you might not be able to turn the food you eat into energy as efficiently, which can lead to weight gain. 

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