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Are Sleep Apnea Episodes Dangerous? What You Need to Know

Are Sleep Apnea Episodes Dangerous? What You Need to Know

Posted On: June 14, 2020

Are sleep apnea episodes dangerous? Over 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. Anyone has the potential to deal with this unfortunate sleep disorder. If you are suffering or think you are experiencing sleep apnea, it’s important to stay informed.

Keep reading to learn about the potential dangers of sleep apnea and sleep apnea episodes.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a potentially dangerous sleep disorder. It is characterized by an involuntary cessation of breathing, where breathing starts and stops during sleep. The word “apnea” in Greek means “without breath.”

Breathing can stop up to hundreds of times throughout the night. Sometimes, there may be no breathing for up to a minute.

There are different types of sleep apnea, including obstructive, central, and mixed. Obstructive (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea.


Sleep apnea can range in severity. There is a measurement system in place called the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI). It measures the number of breathing pauses per hour of sleep.

OSA uses this criterion:

  • Severe sleep apnea: AHI is greater than 30 per hour
  • Moderate sleep apnea: AHI between 15 and 30
  • Mild sleep apnea: AHI between 5 and 15

Are Sleep Apnea Episodes Dangerous?

A respiratory event (apnea) may not be considered the most dangerous factor in sleep apnea. When your body senses that you are no longer breathing, it triggers an awakening. Due to this, it is unlikely to suffocate in your sleep.

But if that isn’t the biggest concern with sleep apnea, then what is?

The answer is simply what it can cause. Several complications can develop from sleep apnea.

High Blood Pressure

Even if you already live with high blood pressure, this is a major concern. Sleep apnea can worsen high blood pressure.

As you are frequently awakened throughout the night, your body becomes more stressed. Hormone systems then become overactive and boost blood pressure levels. Oxygen levels in your blood also drop, causing further issues and adding to the already dangerous problem.

Heart Disease

Hypoxia refers to low oxygen levels in our bodies. As this happens, the fight-or-flight response that occurs causes the heart to beat at a faster rate and arteries to narrow. The effects of this response can increase the risk of cardiovascular problems.

These problems are by far some of the most concerning effects of sleep apnea. In 2011, a medical review found that 60% of those with heart failure had sleep apnea.

Yale News reported that sleep apnea could increase the risk of a heart attack or dying by 30%.

Weight Gain

Weighing a little bit more than is recommended increases your risk of having sleep apnea. Once you have the condition, it will make it even more difficult for you to lose weight.

Higher fat percentages in your body and around your neck can block breathing. Also, sleep apnea increases the amount of hormone, ghrelin, making you crave sweets and carbs.

Lack of energy may also make it harder for your body to turn food into energy. Weight gain alone can cause further issues to arise.

Type 2 Diabetes

Sleep apnea is incredibly common among those with type 2 diabetes. In the same Yale News report, they found that people who have sleep apnea are twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

There is no established cause-and-effect relationship with the two conditions; however, a lack of sleep might have something to do with it. Not getting enough sleep can lead to a lack of insulin production.


As you are aware by now, sleep apnea can take a toll on the amount and quality of sleep you get. Not only can this negatively impact your mood, social interactions, and activities, but it can harm you as well. Grogginess and the inability to stay alert while driving can lead to huge risks in our every day lives.

Can You Die From Sleep Apnea?

There are an estimated 38,000 deaths each year from sleep apnea related complications. Some argue would argue that you can not die from sleep apnea. Rather it is the issues that are caused by sleep apnea that are the most dangerous.

In 2016, fans of the Star Wars icon, Carrie Fisher, were shocked to hear of her death. Her death was caused by a heart attack that she suffered from while on a flight from London to Los Angeles.

It was shared from flight attendants that Fisher was asleep during most of the flight and had experienced several respiratory events or apneas. Although this was considered normal for here, it is unclear if she received treatment for OSA.

In a report released by officials, her cause of death was due to three contributing factors: sleep apnea, heart disease, and drug use.

How Is Sleep Apnea Treated?

Due to the potential hazards of sleep apnea, it is important to get treatment right away. There are a few different options when it comes to sleep apnea treatment.


The most common treatment is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This type of therapy includes wearing a mask with tubing during sleep. The device connected to the mask provides positive pressurized air to airways.

It keeps the airways open. In turn, it prevents the collapse of tissues that cause apneas.

Treatment for Other Medical Issues

Other medical issues may cause sleep apnea. It is important to treat those as well to get the best results from your treatment plan.

Other Devices

There are other options available besides the CPAP machine. Although the CPAP has been known as the most effective device, you can try BPAP, auto CPAP, adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV), or oral appliances.


When other types of treatment have failed, surgery may be an option. It greatly depends on your situation.

Some surgeries include:

  • tissue removal
  • tissue shrinkage
  • jaw repositioning
  • implants
  • nerve stimulation
  • tracheostomy

Seek Medical Care

Regardless of your factors, if you think you are experiencing sleep apnea or sleep apnea episodes, you should seek medical care. The most dangerous position to be in is being unaware.

We would love to help you with your medical journey. Please contact us today to make an appointment!

Dr Jochism

Dr. Sean Jochims, Neurologist

Dr. Sean Jochims graduated medical school with the prestigious Rick Wartgow Award for dedication to medicine. He also received Excellence in Teaching Awards as chief resident in neurology at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

  • Medical School: Medical College of Wisconsin
  • Internship/Internal Medicine: Northwestern University
  • Clinical Neurophysiology Fellowship: Rush Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center, Chicago
  • Participant at Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine
Board Certifications
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