Sleep apnoea is a widespread disease that has major consequences for the patients’ daily functionality and health. A Swedish study has examined all the patients who were diagnosed with sleep apnoea in the country between 2000 and 2009, including both years.
This is possible because Sweden has a register in the same way that other Scandinavian countries have where all patients are registered on a regular basis. During those nine years, 75,000 cases of sleep apnoea were recorded. In 60,000 of the cases, the patients received outpatient treatment and in the remaining 15,000 cases, the patients were hospitalized.
13% of the men and 21% of the women who were recorded with having sleep apnoea in the study ended up on retiring early for one reason or another. For the patients who received outpatient treatment, the figures are 6.5% for men and 13% for women.
In comparison, only 3.5% of the rest of the Swedish population end up retiring early.
What is sleep apnoea?
The condition is characterised by the patient having unmotivated pauses in breathing during sleep. This causes poorer blood circulation and interrupted sleep. According to researchers, sleep apnoea is very underdiagnosed and the disease is never treated in many cases.
It is estimated that 10-17% of middle-aged men suffer from moderate or severe sleep apnoea while the percentage is 3-9% for women. The number of people suffering from the condition is increasing. Moderate or severe sleep apnoea is characterised by the patient’s breathing pausing more than 15 times per hour.
The breathing pauses are called “apnoeas” and their duration is usually between 10 and 60 seconds. In some cases, patients have up to 400 apnoeas per night.
The repercussion of the condition is that the patient is often very tired during the day. This can cause sleep attacks and severe mental disorders. In addition, sleep apnoea is associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
People suffering from sleep apnoea are also more frequently involved in traffic accidents. Children who are affected by sleep apnoea are at risk of suffering from reduced growth.
Greater risk of premature death among hospitalised sleep apnoea patients
In the study, a noticeable greater risk of dying prematurely was seen among the sleep apnoea patients who were hospitalised. Among the patients who were not hospitalised, but simply received outpatient treatment, there was less of a difference.
Among the women who had been hospitalised due to sleep apnoea, more than twice as many of them died prematurely compared to the healthy control group. Among the hospitalised men, 70 percent more of them died prematurely compared to the healthy control group. The suicide rate was also higher for both the men and women suffering from sleep apnoea.
The researchers were not able to adjust the study for health-related conditions such as obesity which increases the risk of developing sleep apnoea. According to the researchers, the results of the study suggest that severe cases of sleep apnoea can be an important risk factor for premature death. Likewise, sleep apnoea can have socio-economic consequences, e.g. resulting from the patients being unable to attend to their job.