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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What are the risks of sleep apnea?

  • Find a professional to answer your question

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    HealthShare Member

    Can an expert please answer my question? is untreated sleep apnoea dangerous?

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    Dr Peter Solin

    Respiratory & Sleep Medicine Physician

    Dr Peter Solin is a highly trained authority in sleep disorders medicine and respiratory medicine, having graduated from Melbourne University in 1987 and undertaken specialist … View Profile

    Sleep apnoea is dangerous, and is not safe.  However the risks are not like an on/off switch; in other words there is a proportional relationship whereby a little bit of sleep apnoea gives a little bit of risk, and more sleep apnoea (particularly with low oxygen) confers a much greater risk; that is people who develop sleep apnoea in middle years as opposed to old age.  It is very hard to conduct an experiment whereby you allow someone to have untreated sleep apnoea for years and years and compare those to a group that have had treatment, so the risks are still a little murky in some areas. 

    There is no doubt in my mind that untreated sleep apnoea has major effects on the heart and cardiovascular system, by increasing the rates of heart attack, stroke, complications after heart attack, increasing the rates of irregular heartbeat including atrial fibrillation, and therefore death and disability as a result.  In terms of diabetes and weight, sleep apnoea increases appetite, reduces activity to burn off calories, and therefore contributes to obesity as well!  Then there are the mental agility and mood disturbance issues.  Sleep apnoea reduces memory and mental agility, outlook and motivation, and increases grumpiness and agitation, and definitely worsens depression or mood instability.  In 20 years of looking after sleep apnoea patients, it is amazing how performance and a sense of well-being improves once sleep apnoea is treated.  Additionally, drivers who have sleep apnoea and are not on adequate treatment have a five times greater risk of a motor vehicle accident as a result!  Truck drivers who have sleep apnoea (and are generally less healthy) have a seven times greater risk of an accident!

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