Hidden Risks of Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea (SA) is a common disorder. During sleep, it means you have pauses in breathing or shallow breaths, according to the NIH.gov website.

“Breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes. They may occur 30 times or more an hour. Typically, normal breathing then starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound. Sleep Apnea is usually a chronic (ongoing) condition that disrupts your sleep. When your breathing pauses or becomes shallow, you’ll often move out of deep sleep and into light sleep. As a result, the quality of your sleep is poor, which makes you tired during the day. Sleep Apnea is a leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness.”
However, you might be surprised to learn SA affects more than just your sleep.

Perhaps, like me, you will be startled to learn that if you have untreated SA (you’re suffering from it, have been diagnosed, and you fail to either treat it with a CPAP machine or a dentist-prescribed device) you very likely can be denied life insurance? Only doing a little research online shows that having SA, and applying for life insurance coverage, can be fraught with challenges, even earning you outright denials by most insurance companies.

The obvious question is “why?” Simply put, it’s all about risk. If you have SA and are not taking it seriously, you are in a higher risk pool for insurance carriers. And, not to be “grave,” but rather blunt, your chance of dying is greater if you have SA and leave it untreated, than if you have SA and are being treated (or you don’t suffer from SA at all).

The website insurance.com states:

“Two recent studies mark the first time that sleep apnea has been linked to higher cancer risk and increased mortality rates…
During episodes of sleep apnea, oxygen levels in the blood drop. Episodes can be caused by obstruction of the upper airway (obstructive sleep apnea) or by a failure of the brain to initiate breathing (central sleep apnea). Symptoms often include excessive daytime sleepiness and loud snoring. More than 50 percent of people who have sleep apnea are overweight.

The condition is serious, and if not treated, can lead to hypertension, lung damage, heart problems, lack of concentration and a high risk of car accidents. When combined with other disorders like cardiac diseases, mortality increases. A recent CDC study shows a link between obstructive sleep apnea and depression.

Now two studies, which were just presented at the American Thoracic Society International Conference in San Francisco, are tying sleep apnea to cancer outcomes. One study by researchers in Spain found that people with severe sleep apnea had a “65 percent greater risk of developing cancer of any kind,” according to The New York Times.

In the second sleep apnea study, researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found that ‘people with severe sleep-disordered breathing died of cancer at a rate 4.8 times higher than people with no sleep breathing problems.’”
If you have SA, or believe you might, get informed and get treated. Not just because you’ll experience better insurance rates, but you’ll likely live longer, too. And what better payoff is there than that?

A great place to start is your local dentist who’s been specifically trained to help patients with SA. While not all dentists are so trained, if yours is not, simply ask for a referral to one that does have the training. —Jerry Jones, Direct & ClearPath Society, Salem, Oregon

[Fortunately, our office has the certification and equipment expertise. There are options to explore for what will benefit you besides the CPAP machine. A visit to our Evanston dental office will determine your best comfort and success for putting Sleep Apnea to sleep.—Dr. Arnold K. Chernoff]