Nearly one third of adult Australians suffer from hypertension, more commonly known simply and literally as high blood pressure. But don’t let the unassuming name fool you: Hypertension is associated with health risks that range from unpleasant all the way to deadly.
Risks of Hypertension
Hypertension can come with some health problems that negatively affect daily life, and other health problems that more seriously affect life expectancy.
For example, the medications commonly prescribed for hypertension can cause depression and anxiety in some patients. High blood pressure can cause vision loss due to glaucoma or retinopathy, and it can even cause erectile dysfunction and decreased libido. High blood pressure can even increase risk of osteoporosis due to decreased bone density as a result of increased calcium elimination. All of these health risks can strongly negatively impact quality of life for people who suffer from hypertension.
Unfortunately, it isn’t just the quality of life that hypertension impacts — it can also impact the length of it.
Hypertension can increase the risk of kidney disease, the tenth most common cause of death in Australia. It can also increase risk of stroke, the third most common cause of death for Australians. But renal failure and stroke both pale in the comparison to the worst health risk of hypertension, though: Heart disease. The number one killer of Australians (and people worldwide), heart disease can result from the stress that hypertension causes to the heart.
What Does Sleep Apnea Have to Do With It?
You may be asking yourself, how does sleep apnea factor in? The common sleep disorder in which people stop breathing for periods of ten or more seconds, sometimes as many as hundreds of times a night, is often written off as nothing more than a snoring problem. But sleep apnea is a recognized cause of hypertension, and carries with it all the same risks, plus a few additional ones of its own.
Sleep apnea episodes — that is, the moments of stopped breathing experienced during sleep — cause increased blood pressure not just during sleep, but for many people, even during their normal waking hours.
Luckily, sleep apnea can be treated, and those treatments can reduce related risks as well. The problem is, some estimates suggest that up to 80% of people who suffer from sleep apnea are undiagnosed. You can’t get treatment for a disorder you don’t know you have!
If you suffer from sleep apnea symptoms, it’s important to speak to your doctor about being tested for sleep apnea. Partners or family may be able to notice symptoms while you are asleep, like snoring. You can also spot daytime symptoms, such as fatigue, loss of focus or memory, and even difficulty losing weight.
If you do have sleep apnea, a dentist can help. Oral appliance therapy is recommended as the first treatment to try. The appliance can be worn while sleeping and will reposition the jaw to keep the airway open.