Can you die from sleep apnea?
Newscasts that outlined the reason for the death of Star Wars idol Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) have startled many viewers and fans. Fisher’s death was initiated by obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which made cause for a query of the disorder among her fans. Could it be possible to die from sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea takes place when an individual ceases to breathe for a period of 10 seconds or more. This can sometimes occur as often as five times an hour. A person with sleep apnea will usually gasp, choke, or snore while they are asleep, and wake up tired. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute reported that more than 12 million people in the United States have obstructive sleep apnea.
While it is unknown whether or not Fisher actually had sleep apnea, and if she did it is not known if she was aware of it or was treating it correctly. She did have a pre-existing heart disease, which likely was a contributor. Multiple substances in her system could have also been an impact on Fisher’s death in addition to sleep apnea symptoms, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s report.
Can sleep apnea cause death?
Some believe that sleep apnea cannot actually cause death because the body should be able to abruptly awaken in case of an oxygen deficiency.
However, sleep apnea contributes to many health issues, which increase the chance of death. Clinical research has demonstrated that individuals with sleep apnea have an increased mortality rate, and untreated symptoms can lead to death. Sleep apnea quickens the heart rate, increases blood pressure, disturbs respiratory and cardiac function, causes discrepancies with brain and body chemistry, and interrupts circadian patterns.
Untreated Sleep Apnea
Individuals who do not realize they have sleep apnea or those who decide not to seek treatment have a three times greater of dying prematurely, two to three times more chance of experiencing a stroke, and have a greater likelihood of having a heart attack. According to a study at Yale University, those who have had the disorder for less than five years have a 30% increased risk of dying or having a heart attack.
Those who have more serious cases of sleep apnea will encounter an increased risk of death or heart attack. The Wisconsin Sleep Cohort found that 42% of fatalities in individuals who had severe sleep apnea were initiated by heart disease. Severe cases are those with an AHI score of 21+ respiratory events for each hour. They also found that there was an increase of five times more deaths related to cardiac issues in patients who had sleep apnea than patients without.
There are many causes of death tied to sleep apnea that are not actually sleep apnea. John Bouzis reported to the Washington Post that people die of the pulmonary issues, stroke, or cardiovascular disease. Sleep apnea only triggers the dysfunction. Those who believe that they may have sleep apnea should visit their physician for sleep apnea treatment.
Sleep Apnea and Heart Disease
It is estimated that there are more than 38,000 cases of people dying from sleep apnea causes due to complications with heart disease. Medical professionals believe that at least 22 million American citizens have sleep apnea and many are not even aware of it yet.
It is recommended that people who are diagnosed with a heart disorder get a sleep study to avoid any serious distress. In the United States alone, one-quarter of all deaths are caused by cardiac events. Heart disease causes more deaths than any other disorder, and 6% of those fatalities also had sleep apnea.
Women do not experience heart disease in the same manner that men do. Women could potentially have two types of cardiac issues: atherosclerosis (the type that Carrie Fisher had), and nonobstructive coronary artery disease. Atherosclerosis takes place when cholesterol and fats grow together with artery walls, which ultimately compromises the elasticity and strength of the heart.
Coronary arteries are no longer able to move blood quickly through to the heart, the most important muscle of the body. Low blood flow, or a lack of it, can be fatal. Sleep apnea only contributes to an already negative condition when it places additional tension on the function of the heart and refuses blood oxygen to the body. Additional considerations that increase the likelihood of a heart attack taking place are disproportionate drinking, drug use, or smoking because over time they add to artery plaque and blood pressure.
Sleep Apnea and Drugs
Fisher’s toxicology report notes that she had ecstasy, alcohol, methadone, opiates, and cocaine in her system. The use of drugs for an extensive period of time can increase the changes of sleep apnea. Alcohol alone is a respiratory depressant that should not be consumed before bed. During sleep, opiates depress the respiratory system at a time when it depends on reflexive brain signaling. When the opioids depress the brain signals to the diaphragm, they become weaker, which results in weakened muscle tone that should instead be built to aid breathing mechanics. Cocaine and other snorted drugs impair the upper airway and nasal structure, which causes them to fall while a person is asleep.
Sleep Apnea and Psychological Issues
Sleep apnea can lead to depression and mood disorders because of its influence on neurochemical brain function. Fisher had bipolar disorder and was an advocate for mental health who made her voice known.
While bipolar disorder is an unrelated medical issue, individuals with sleep apnea experience mood swings due to sleep deprivation and chemical imbalances. The combination constitutes a dangerous series, and the sleep apnea could be irrelevant.
The following aspects could become a brutal cycle within unresolved cases of sleep apnea:
• Psychological problems that begin due to unresolved sleep apnea could lead to alcohol or drug use, which could further the psychological issues that were pre-existing
• Using drugs to self-medicate for daytime fatigue or insomnia can cause risky decisions, behavior disorders, and mood disorders
• Deprivation, fatigue, and sleep fragmentation can occur as a result of mental health problems or mood disorders caused by sleep apnea
Sleep Apnea and Obesity
Individuals who are obese could already have several risk factors adding stress to their heart such as heart disease or heart failure. The additional risk contributes to the likelihood of sudden cardiac death taking place.
Sudden cardiac death takes place if the heart abruptly ceases to function entirely and the individual dies. Unfortunately, it is the leading natural cause of death in the United States and causes about 325,000 adults to die annually. If a sudden cardiac arrest takes place and someone’s heart stops suddenly, they should be given CPR right away or be shocked with a defibrillator.
Patients who have unresolved sleep apnea could encounter a seemingly endless cycle of apprehensions that have to do with sleep-related psychological health worries, suicidal thoughts, emotional fatigue, excessive daytime drowsiness, or insomnia. Obstructive sleep apnea has many severe health risks, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and accidents; however, long-term data is deficient. It is known, however, that sleep apnea acts as a catalyst for other diseases to potentially become fatal.