Patients with severe sleep apnea are at higher risk of dying prematurely
Patients with sleep apnea are at high risk of many comorbidities that may help send them to early retirement. They are also more likely to die prematurely due to heart and lung disease.
The muscle relaxation during sleep, together with factors that suppress the upper airway - such as a retracted lower jaw, upper airway fat accumulation - cause the respiratory tract to become too narrow and we begin to snore as a sign of unrestrained upper airway. In some cases it goes so far that the pharynx is completely closed when you try to breathe, which results in a breathing pause, a so-called sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a widespread disease that has significant consequences for patients’ daily functionality and health. A Swedish study has examined all patients who received the diagnosis between 2000 and 2009, both years inclusive.
This is possible because Sweden has a register where all patients are registered regularly, just as there is in the other Scandinavian countries. During those nine years, there were 75,000 cases of sleep apnea. 60,000 cases in which patients received outpatient treatment and 15,000 admissions.
13% of men and 21% of women who had sleep apnea in the study ended up on early retirement for one reason or another. For patients receiving outpatient treatment, the figures are 6.5% for men and 13% for women.
By comparison, three and a half percent of the rest of the Swedish population end up on early retirement.
What is sleep apnea?
The disease is characterized by the patient’s breathing unmotivated, holding breaks during sleep. It results in more reduced blood circulation and interrupted sleep. Sleep apnea is, according to the researchers, very under-diagnosed, and in many cases, the disease is never treated.
It is estimated that 10-17% of middle-aged men suffer from moderate or severe sleep apnea. At the same time, the proportion of women is 3 to 9%. The number of people suffering from illness is increasing. Moderate or severe sleep apnea is characterized by the patient pausing for breathing more than 15 times per hour.
Breaths are called “apneas,” and their duration is usually between 10 and 60 seconds. In some cases, patients have up to 400 apneas per night.
The consequences of the disease are that the patient is often fatigued during the day. It can result in sleep attacks and severe mental disorders. Also, sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Patients are also more frequently involved in traffic accidents. If sleep apnea affects children, they risk reduced growth.
Higher risk of premature death among inpatient sleep apnea patients
There was a noticeably, more significant risk of dying prematurely among subjects enrolled in sleep apnea. Among the patients who were not admitted but received outpatient treatment, there was little difference.
Among women who had been asleep with sleep apnea, more than twice as many suffered premature deaths. Among the men, it was 70 percent more than in the healthy control group. The suicide rate for both men and women was also higher.
The study was unable to correct for health-related conditions such as being overweight, increasing the risk of sleep apnea. The researchers conclude that the results suggest that severe cases of sleep apnea can be an essential risk factor when it comes to dying prematurely.