Some of the health risks tied to hypertension, more casually known as high blood pressure, are simply unpleasant, but many can be disabling: decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, glaucoma, retinoplasty, decreased bone density, or depression or anxiety as a result of medications. But the majority of the medical problems that hypertension exposes you to do far worse than just impacting your quality of life: They can even kill you.
Unfortunately, one of the causes of hypertension is sleep apnea, which the majority of sufferers don’t even know they have.
Sleep Apnea and Hypertension
Researchers estimate that a staggering 80% of people with sleep apnea are undiagnosed. This is at least partially because it is the nature of a sleep disorder to go unnoticed — after all, you’re sleeping through your symptoms.
People with sleep apnea may stop breathing for periods of ten seconds or longer while they sleep, sometimes as often as hundreds of times a night. But too often, even the noticeable symptoms of sleep apnea are ignored or written off as unimportant. Having a tendency to snore may make you the butt of jokes, but fails to trigger the urge to see a doctor in most people. And daytime symptoms like fatigue, irritability, and poor focus can easily be attributed to a dozen other, less serious causes.
How Sleep Apnea Kills
People with sleep apnea experience elevated blood pressure while they sleep (and some even experience it while awake and breathing normally.) This high blood pressure can damage everything from the kidneys to the heart, and put sleep apnea sufferers at higher risk of some of the most common causes of death in the United States.
High blood pressure can damage the kidneys, which filter toxins from the blood, resulting in kidney disease, which kills over 47,000 people a year. Hypertension can also increase the risk of stroke, which kills nearly 130,000 people a year. And scariest of all, it even increases your risk of heart disease, which is already the number one killer in the world, striking down over 610,000 people annually in the United States alone.
Treatment Can Reduce the Risks
The good news is, sleep apnea is highly treatable, and treatments for sleep apnea can get reduce your blood pressure as well as your risks for health problems like these. By preventing the sleep apnea episodes that increase blood pressure, that laundry list of health risks won’t have to apply to you.
If you think you may have sleep apnea, it’s important to speak to your doctor. A sleep test can allow doctors to diagnose the disorder, and then your dentist can help treat it. Oral appliances are the first line of treatment for sleep apnea, even of CPAP, which has been shown to disrupt sleep. Your dentist can fit you with an oral appliance that holds your jaw in the right position to keep your airway open, allowing for easy breathing all night long.