Interruptions in breathing during sleep can have devastating effects on the body, possibly leading to death. During a session of the Airway Focused Dentistry Mini-Residency, Dr. Bertrand De Silva discussed the potentially deadly impacts of untreated apnea. The course was co-developed by Dana Point Dentist Dr. Mark A Cruz.
The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems
The sympathetic system responds to danger and prepares a body for physical activity. The parasympathetic system serves the opposite function, relaxing the body. There is normally a mild oscillation between these systems, with the sympathetic system being more predominant in waking hours and the parasympathetic system being more predominant during sleep.
What happens when a person chokes during sleep?
The sympathetic nervous system responds to the danger of decreasing oxygen by increasing output and releasing adrenaline. The parasympathetic system responds by increasing its output, keeping the person asleep. The cycle continues, creating severe instability between the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, which leads to problems such as cardiac instability.
The potential effects of this instability include:
High blood pressure
High heart rate
Increased cortisol levels
Difficulty losing weight
An influential study, which was published in the Los Angeles Times and Journal of Cardiology, compared the mortality of groups with and without sleep apnea. Dr. De Silva explained that the study was intended to last for ten years. However, after only four years, the evidence was so compelling that researchers chose to publish it immediately. Researchers found that individuals with sleep apnea die sooner. According to the article, “It removes any reasonable doubt that sleep apnea is a fatal disease."
Dr. Cruz and Dr. De Silvia are among a group of medical professionals who are dedicated to saving lives, and improving quality of life, among people affected by sleep apnea.