What are other health conditions associated with Sleep Apnea?


While sleep apnea may not be determined to cause other medical health conditions, there is evidence of a higher rate of sleep apnea associated with other medical conditions. The University of Maryland Medical Center describes some of these:


Medical Conditions Related to Sleep Apnea


Diabetes. Diabetes is associated with sleep apnea and snoring. It is not clear if there is an independent relationship between the two conditions or whether obesity is the only common factor.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition caused by acid backing up into the esophagus and is a common cause of heartburn. GERD and sleep apnea often coincide. In one study, almost half of apnea patients had symptoms of GERD, and these symptoms also tend to be worse at night and in the morning and particularly hard to treat. Some experts suggest that the back of up of stomach acid in GERD may produce spasms in the vocal cords (larynx), thereby blocking the flow of air to the lungs and causing apnea. Or, apnea itself may cause pressure changes that trigger GERD. It should be noted, however, that obesity is frequent in both conditions and may be the common factor. More research is needed to clarify the association. [For more information, see the Well-Connected , Report #85, Heartburn and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. ]

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). In one 2000 study, women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) were 30 times more likely than other premenopausal women to have obstructive sleep apnea and excessive daytime sleepiness. In PCOS women produce high amounts of androgens (male hormones), particularly testosterone. The elevated levels of male hormones can cause obesity, facial hair, and acne. About half of PCOS patients also have diabetes. Obesity and diabetes are both associated with sleep apnea and may be the common factors.

Chronic Problems in the Upper Airways. A 2001 Swedish study found that people with respiratory tract disorders, including asthma, chronic bronchitis, or seasonal allergies, reported symptoms of sleep apnea more often than those without any of these ailments. Not all research supports the association, however, and more studies are needed.


Other Adverse Effects on Health
Sleep apnea is associated with a higher incidence of many medical conditions, other than heart and circulation. The links between apneas and the conditions are unclear.

Pulmonary hypertension.
Diabetes.
Kidney failure.
Peripheral nerve damage (e.g., tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands and feet).
Seizures, epilepsy, and other nerve disorders. Sleep apnea appears to pose a particularly risk for nocturnal epilepsy (in which seizures occur during sleep.)
Headaches. Some studies strongly suggest that for some people sleep disorders, including apnea, may be the underlying causes of some chronic headaches. In some patients with both chronic headaches and apnea, treating the sleep disorder has been known to cure the headache, even the very severe and disabling form known as a cluster headache.
Irregular menstrual periods. This occurs in about 40% of premenopausal women. It is not clear how they are related, but one study reported that treating apnea helped normalize periods.
Eye disorders, including glaucoma, conjunctivitis, dry eye, and various other infections and irritations. A condition called intracranial hypertension has been observed as well in some patients with sleep apnea, which may also damage vision.