Sleep apnea can lead to a number of complications, ranging from daytime sleepiness to possible increased risk of death. Sleep apnea has a strong association with several diseases, particularly those related to the heart and circulation.
Daytime sleepiness is the most noticeable, and one of the most serious, complications of sleep apnea. It interferes with mental alertness and quality of life. Daytime sleepiness can also increase the risk for accident-related injuries. Several studies have suggested that people with sleep apnea have two to three times as many car accidents, and five to seven times the risk for multiple accidents. Undertreated sleep apnea is a major risk factor for injury at factory and construction work sites
Effects of Sleep Apnea on Heart and Circulation
A number of cardiovascular diseases -- including high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, and heart arrhythmias -- have an association with obstructive sleep apnea. This link may be because both cardiovascular illnesses and sleep apnea are associated with obesity and its consequences. However, large studies have increasingly suggested that OSA itself may lead to or worsen cardiovascular disease.
At this time, however, evidence of a clear causal relationship between obstructive sleep apnea and cardiovascular events is lacking. Likewise, whether treating obstructive sleep apnea improves cardiovascular outcomes has not been demonstrated.
Review Date: 06/11/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.