How Can Untreated Sleep Apnea Effect Health & Life Expectancy

sleep apnea effects if untreated and lfie expectancy
Posted by Catharine Nixon on 07 Aug, 2022

Sleep apnea can cause a variety of serious health conditions if left untreated and can significantly reduce life expectancy. At home sleeping tests can diagnose the condition quickly and conveniently in only a single night.


Untreated Sleep Apnea Life Expectancy

If left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea can reduce life expectancy by several years and as much as 15 years, depending on how serious the condition is and at what age symptoms first appeared.


Effects of untreated sleep apnea



Research studies confirm the relationship between erectile dysfunction (ED) and obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea also lowers your libido, in other words, your sex drive.



Men suffering from erectile dysfunction should be tested for obstructive sleep apnea. It’s important to note men suffering from obstructive sleep apnea have an increased risk for erectile dysfunction.

A study found 69% of men suffering from erectile dysfunction had untreated obstructive sleep apnea.

Medical science links men with both erectile dysfunction and obstructive sleep apnea to some of today’s serious chronic health diseases including cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, obesity, and depression.


sleep apnea erectile disfunction



Testosterone is a male sex hormone involved in sex drive, fertility, bone density, muscle mass, and fat distribution. Testosterone is therefore an essential hormone. Women also produced testosterone.

Testosterone is found in higher concentrations during sleep peaking during REM sleep. Suffering from obstructive sleep apnea causes sleep fragmentation which interrupts the amount of time spent in REM. Testosterone rhythm is therefore reliant on sleep quality and spending adequate time in REM sleep. Obstructive apnea events also affect oxygenation levels causing episodes of hypoxia. Hypoxia is also noted as a potential disruptor of the hormone testosterone.

An increased BMI and obesity are also strong indicators of low testosterone levels and a risk factor for developing OSA.

A study found men suffering from severe OSA with lower testosterone levels were more susceptible to feelings of physical fatigue and lethargy and mental fatigue.

Testosterone is an important hormone for both men and women and therefore achieving both quantity and quality of sleep is necessary for its production.



Sleep quality issues are noted in men reporting low libido while men diagnosed with OSA commonly report low libido. Studies have found middle-aged men suffering from OSA and low libido can also present with disturbances in mood and as a result, feel more low and depressed in mood.

The partners of OSA sufferers can also experience low libido as a result of diminished sleep quality from their partner’s disrupted sleep-disordered breathing.




Affects 1 in 4 people and sleep apnea has been found to have a profound impact. Increased OSA severity increases the risk for insulin resistance, noted particularly in those suffering from moderate to severe OSA.

Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas responsible for regulating the amount of glucose circulating in the bloodstream and uptake into muscle, liver, and fat cells for energy.

Insulin resistance, on the other hand, refers to a scenario whereby muscle, liver, and fat cells are resistant to insulin causing circulating blood glucose levels to increase. Paving the way for pre-diabetes and type II diabetes.

Whilst scientists are continuing to learn more about the pathways involved with OSA and insulin resistance. Studies report that OSA impairs insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, and induces insulin resistance. Intermittent hypoxia exposing the body to changes in oxygen levels caused by frequent upper airway restrictions appears to play a significant role.


OSA and type II diabetes are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.



The risk of death increases up to 5 times from heart disease when suffering from untreated sleep apnea.

The prevalence of OSA is as high as 40-80% in those with hypertension, atrial fibrillation, heart failure, stroke, and coronary artery disease.

OSA’s impact on heart health is the sum of a series of compensatory mechanisms occurring in response to partial and complete obstructions to the upper airway or cessation of breathing effort.

The body’s frequent need to reoxygenate therefore causes intermittent hypoxia and oxidative stress in the blood vessels. In turn, this creates stress on the body’s blood vessels and the heart.

Heart health is reliant on both quality and quantity of sleep, lacking either negatively impacts and increases the risk for heart dysfunction.

Sleep apnea is a known predisposing risk factor for heart health dysfunction and disease.


sleep apnea stress



High blood pressure

The heart uses sleep as rest and recovery time each day and under normal circumstances blood pressure and heart rate decrease.

Hypertension can develop from the repetitive activation of the sympathetic nervous system also known as ‘flight’ or ‘fight’ during forced arousals from sleep to clear upper airway obstructions. This repetitive activation creates vascular constriction and elevates blood pressure. It also excites the heart causing the heart rate to fluctuate.

This goes against the heart using sleep for rest and recovery time.

Intermittent hypoxia and hypoxemia result damaging blood vessels by the need to reoxygenate. Hypoxemia is low levels of oxygen in the blood and hypoxia is low levels of oxygen in the tissues. The repetitive start and stop breathing causes episodes of hypoxia and hypoxemia.



Where hypertension is treated with 3 or more different types of anti-hypertensive medications OSA should be considered as an underlying cause and tested for.

Studies have found treating OSA with CPAP reduces hypertension, thus improving medical management.



A condition whereby the heartbeat is irregular, chaotic, and fast increases the risk of stroke.

OSA is a risk factor for atrial fibrillation (AF) and the incidence of AF in OSA is high.

Should sleep apnea be diagnosed treatment should be initiated and compliance monitored. CPAP is recommended as an effective treatment strategy for OSA in those with AF.

Medical interventions and management of AF are more successful with OSA treatment and compliance. Untreated OSA often sees AF persist despite medical interventions.



A well-known cause of death for 1 in men around the world,

Also referred to as ischaemic heart disease

The implication of OSA in CAD is an intricate cause-effect series of pathophysiological changes to be aware of.

When an OSA sufferer tries to breathe against their blocked airway this increases intrathoracic pressure in the chest cavity as the brain continues sending messages to the respiratory muscles to breathe against the blocked airway.

In turn, this creates stress and pressure on the blood vessels and heart.



Disturbances in mood are associated with poor sleep and sleep-disordered breathing. The prevalence of anxiety is found more in those suffering from OSA than in the general population and greater with those suffering from severe OSA with a raised BMI.


Anxiety in OSA sufferers can further exacerbate poor sleep by initiating insomnia symptoms and non-compliance with treatment for OSA.

Interrupted sleep resulting from breathing difficulties and arousals from sleep to momentarily wake to breathe in an effort to reoxygenate causes sleep fragmentation.

Sleep fragmentation reduces the amount of time spent in REM sleep, also known as ‘deep sleep’, a stage of sleep where memory consolidation and emotional processing occur.


Important to note that not all sufferers of depression with underlying OSA present with typically OSA symptoms.



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