Is Sleep Apnea Dangerous If Left Untreated?

Sleep apnea, a condition marked by interrupted breathing during sleep, is more than just a nightly nuisance. It's a serious health concern that, if left untreated, can lead to a host of complications. In New Zealand, as in many other parts of the world, awareness about sleep apnea and its potential dangers is growing.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea occurs when a person's breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep. There are two main types: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), the more common form, occurs when throat muscles relax; and Central Sleep Apnea, which happens when your brain doesn't send proper signals to the muscles controlling breathing. According to the New Zealand Respiratory Conference, OSA affects a significant portion of the population, with a higher prevalence in males. Read our What Is Sleep Apnea and How To Treat It article.

The Risks of Untreated Sleep Apnea

Cardiovascular Issues

Untreated sleep apnea can have severe implications for your heart health. It's been linked to hypertension, irregular heartbeats, heart attacks, and stroke. The New Zealand Heart Foundation highlights the connection between sleep apnea and heart disease, noting that the intermittent oxygen deprivation and stress from frequent awakenings can strain the cardiovascular system.

Daytime Fatigue

The disrupted sleep patterns can lead to severe daytime drowsiness, affecting concentration and increasing the risk of accidents. A study referenced by the Sleep Health Foundation found a significant increase in the risk of motor vehicle accidents for those with untreated sleep apnea.

Mental Health Concerns 

Sleep apnea can impact mental health, leading to issues like depression and anxiety. Research from the University of Otago in New Zealand emphasises the psychological impacts of chronic sleep disturbances, including those caused by sleep apnea.

Other Health Risks

Untreated sleep apnea is also associated with other health problems such as metabolic syndrome, liver problems, and complications with medications and surgeries.

Diagnosis and Treatment in New Zealand

If you suspect you have sleep apnea, it's crucial to get diagnosed and treated. In New Zealand, healthcare providers often use sleep studies to diagnose the condition. Treatments may include lifestyle changes, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy, oral appliances, and sometimes surgery. Resources like the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ offer guidance on treatment options and support.


Ignoring sleep apnea can lead to serious health complications. Awareness and treatment of this sleep disorder are crucial. If you or someone you know is showing symptoms of sleep apnea, consult with a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment. Remember, a good night's sleep is not just about rest; it's about maintaining your overall health and well-being. 

For more information on sleep apnea and available treatments, visit the Sleep Health Foundation and the New Zealand Respiratory Conference

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