Researchers Reveal A Number Of Health Risks That Come With Sleep Apnea

An estimated 26% of Americans between the ages of 30 and 70 have obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS), according to a 2021 retrospective study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Often under-diagnosed and under-treated, the disorder is characterized by partial or full blockage that occurs in the upper airways. Those with the condition often experience five or more 10-second episodes each hour while sleeping. Not only can this interfere with one's quality of sleep, but a series of new studies presented at the European Respiratory Society's (ERS) 2022 International Congress in Spain reveals that sleep apnea appears to be tied to a number of alternate health conditions (via WebMD).

Several of the studies showed a connection between sleep apnea and increases in patient cardiovascular risk (per ERS). Specifically, in one of the studies, researchers found a relationship between increased respiratory effort exerted while asleep and greater chances for hypertension in patients with suspected sleep apnea. According to the Mayo Clinic, hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure, can lead to coronary artery disease, heart attack, or heart failure if left untreated.

Sleep apnea may be linked to cognitive decline and cancer risk

In another one of the studies, researchers examined over 350 elderly participants at least 65 years of age living in community environments to find out if obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) could be a potential contributing factor to patient cognitive decline over the course of a 5-year follow-up period (via ERS). Findings showed that specifically for men, as well as older participants, sleep apnea was associated with greater cognitive decline in areas of processing speed and executive function.

In an alternate longitudinal study conducted in Sweden, researchers looked at whether or not nocturnal hypoxia was associated with an increased cancer risk in patients (per ERS). As defined by the Cleveland Clinic, hypoxia occurs when adequate amounts of oxygen are lacking in bodily tissue. "Our findings show that oxygen deprivation due to OSA is independently associated with cancer," stated researcher and presenter of the first study Dr. Andreas Palm in a press release. Additionally, the study team observed that oxygen deprivation appeared to be greater in sleep apnea patients with lung cancer, prostate cancer, and malignant melanoma.

However, Dr. Palm acknowledged that further study is still needed on the subject. "The association between OSA and cancer is less well established than the link with diseases of the heart and blood vessels, insulin resistance, diabetes and fatty liver disease ... we hope our study will encourage other researchers to research this important topic," Dr. Palm concluded via the press release.