What Happens If Sleep Apnea Is Left Untreated? Check!


Sleep is essential for good health. Yet many people do not get the quality or quantity of sleep they need. A common but underdiagnosed sleep disorder is sleep apnea.

This condition causes repeated pauses or disruptions in breathing during the night. It prevents one from enjoying sound good quality sleep. 

The effects of poor sleep accumulate over time. Ongoing fatigue takes a toll both mentally and physically. Emerging research also links chronic sleep disturbances to increased risk for certain health problems. One key area of concern is cardiovascular disease.

This article explores the impacts of leaving sleep apnea untreated. We will cover the connections between sleep deficiencies and heart issues. An important question we will address is: What happens if sleep apnea is left untreated? Understanding the risks of untreated sleep apnea is key.

You will learn about symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for sleep apnea. Delving into these topics highlights why prioritizing healthy sleep is so important.

What is sleep apnea? 

Sleep Apnea Disorder

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. In sleep apnea, the muscles in the back of the throat relax, causing the airway to narrow or close during sleep.

As airflow is restricted, breathing pauses or becomes very shallow. These episodes are called apneas (complete pauses) or hypopneas (decreased flow of air). The brain senses oxygen levels dropping and briefly awakens the body to resume breathing. While this restores oxygen flow, it also fragments sleep.

There are two main types of sleep apnea - obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. In both cases, the brain and body are deprived of oxygen during sleep.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms, And Diagnosis

Common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, gasping or choking during sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, mood changes, and difficulty concentrating.

However, some people with sleep apnea may not exhibit obvious symptoms. A sleep study is required for diagnosis. During a sleep study, breathing patterns and oxygen levels are monitored during sleep to detect apneas and hypopneas.

What happens if sleep apnea is left untreated?

When breathing pauses during sleep, oxygen levels drop. To restore oxygen, the heart works harder to pump blood. Untreated sleep apnea leads to surges in blood pressure throughout the night, increasing the risk of developing hypertension over time.

There is also evidence that decreases in blood oxygen can trigger inflammation and changes in blood chemistry that accelerate plaque buildup in arteries.

Can untreated sleep apnea cause heart problems?

Why does sleep apnea cause heart problems? Yes, the strain of uncontrolled sleep apnea takes a toll on cardiovascular health. Repeated drops in oxygen lead to surges in blood pressure that can overload the heart. Treating sleep apnea can help mitigate these risks.

One analysis found that those with severe untreated sleep apnea were 58% more likely to develop congestive heart failure over 11 years compared to those without sleep apnea. Effective sleep apnea treatment resulted in a significant reduction of that risk.

How Lack of Sleep Impacts Heart Health?

What exactly is the link between sleep apnea and heart disease? How can something as simple as lack of sleep impact one’s heart health? Sleep deprivation is common in those with untreated sleep apnea. Fragmented sleep prevents the body from going through all the normal stages of sleep.

Without enough quality sleep, hormones that regulate appetite, metabolism, and stress response get disrupted. Over time, chronic partial sleep loss stresses the body, alters blood pressure, and disturbs cardiac function.

Hence, untreated sleep apnea can lead to an elevated risk of atherosclerosis, blood clots, heart failure, etc. It also may cause cardiac arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation, and even sudden cardiac death. 

Does sleep apnea affect heart rate?

We have already found that sleep apnea can alter blood pressure and cause heart disease. If so, then does sleep apnea affect heart rate too? Let’s try to find out the relationship between sleep apnea and heart palpitation. 

Yes, sleep apnea commonly causes variations in heart rate. When breathing pauses during sleep, heart rate normally decreases due to lower blood oxygen levels.

Then as breathing resumes, the heart rate speeds up. Untreated sleep apnea triggers repeated ups and downs in heart rate throughout the night. Over time, this strain can promote electrical disturbances in heart rhythm.


So, hope you have found out the answer to the question, What happens if sleep apnea is left untreated? If sleep apnea goes unchecked over many years, the risk of developing serious cardiovascular complications rises significantly.

Untreated sleep apnea stresses the heart and circulatory system through repeated drops in oxygen. It also increases blood pressure, increases inflammation, and causes constant sleep disruption.

Can untreated sleep apnea cause heart problems? Yes, moderate to severe sleep apnea dramatically escalates the chance of having high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and erratic heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation.

Those with pre-existing heart disease face even higher risk. The good news is that treating sleep apnea can substantially lower cardiovascular risk.

So, as you have learned the answer to the question “What happens if sleep apnea is left untreated?”, don't ignore your symptoms. Let your doctor know if you have symptoms like loud snoring, witnessed breathing pauses, or daytime fatigue. Hopefully, knowing “What happens if sleep apnea is left untreated?” has encouraged you to get evaluated as soon as possible. 

Finally, effective sleep apnea treatment is available and can transform sleep quality and potentially lower cardiovascular risk. So, instead of asking questions like “What happens if sleep apnea is left untreated?”

Go ahead and consult your doctor. Put in effort to explore the best therapy options for your situation. The rewards of properly managed sleep apnea are well worth the effort.

Sleep tight!


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Dr. David G Kiely is a distinguished Medical Reviewer and former General Medicine Consultant with a wealth of experience in the field. Dr. Kiely's notable career as a General Medicine Consultant highlights his significant contributions to the medical field.

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