Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that affects millions of Americans — some research suggests as many as one in ten. People with sleep apnea may stop breathing hundreds of times per night. Of course, it’s hard to recognize your symptoms when you’re sleeping through many of them: Most people with the disorder go undiagnosed.
And if sleep apnea is common, hypertension is an epidemic: An estimated one third of adults have hypertension, also known as high blood pressure.
So what do these two health problems have in common? Not only does one causes the other, but both can be deadly.
The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Hypertension
When a person experiences a sleep apnea episode, their systolic (when the heart beats) and diastolic (when the heart rests) blood pressure surges. Since these episodes can happen continually throughout the night, this results in overall elevated blood pressure during sleep. Even more troubling, that raised blood pressure remains raised for many sleep apnea sufferers throughout the day, even when they are breathing normally.
Ultimately, this means that sleep apnea and hypertension share the same medical risks — and those risks are immense.
Seven Dangerous Health Risks
On the least deadly end of the scale, sleep apnea and hypertension sufferers risk sexual problems with lower libido and erectile dysfunction, as well as medication-triggered mental health concerns, like depression and anxiety. While these problems may not send people to an early grave, they heavily impact quality of day-to-day life.
That’s just the beginning. High blood pressure can trigger retinopathy or glaucoma, leading to loss of vision. It also drains calcium from the body, weakening bones and increasing risk of osteoporosis. Your kidneys are impacted, too: Hypertension can damage these blood-filtering organs and prevent them from effectively doing their work of cleaning toxins out of your body.
But even all of those risks sound toothless when held up against the final two: Stroke and heart disease.
A stroke occurs when an artery in or leading to the brain becomes clogged or bursts. With access to the oxygen in the blood cut off, it takes less than four minutes for brain cells to start to die. Sometimes, strokes result in permanent disability. Others aren’t so lucky: Stroke is the fifth most common cause of death in the United States.
Last but not least, hypertension puts undue stress on the heart, increasing the likelihood of heart disease and heart failure. One in four deaths in the United States — no, that’s not a typo — are due to heart disease. It is the number one cause of death, even taking the lead in front of cancer.