When hotel employees found Bob Saget dead in his hotel room on January 9, it shocked the country. Saget was not only a beloved comedian and family man; he was relatively young, 65, with no known history of significant health problems. Investigators reported no signs of foul play or drug use.

Although the authorities have not released an official cause of death, some suspect a sudden heart attack or stroke. This is likely for many reasons. These are leading causes of death in the US, especially for men Saget’s age. In addition, Saget had recently recovered from a COVID-19 infection and the risk of heart attack and stroke increases after COVID-19 infection.

We do not have any evidence that Saget suffered from sleep apnea or another sleep disorder. However, we do want to take this occasion to remind everyone that sleep disorders can contribute to the risk of sudden death in people who might otherwise seem healthy.

Sleep Apnea Common, Frequently Undiagnosed

tired woman sleeping peacefully in her bed

We know that sleep apnea is highly prevalent among men of Saget’s age, affecting perhaps one in six. However, most of those with sleep apnea don’t know they have it. Current estimates say that about 80% of people with sleep apnea are undiagnosed.

People with undiagnosed sleep apnea don’t realize the potential dangers of deteriorating health. For many of these people and their families, the first evidence of this condition is a heart problem. One study, for example, looked at atrial fibrillation patients who had not been diagnosed with sleep apnea. When tested, more than 80% of them had sleep apnea.

For this reason, it is vital to be aware of the dangers of this condition and keep an eye out for potential warning signs.

Sometimes, people might be diagnosed with a related condition, like upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS), but it’s impossible to tell the difference without a sleep test.

Dangers of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea has the potential to affect almost every aspect of your health. People with sleep apnea likely experience a higher risk of death than people without sleep apnea. Severe sleep apnea at least doubles your risk of death from any cause, and some studies say it may increase your risk of death by up to six times.

Even beyond fatal risks, sleep apnea can dramatically impact your quality of life and that of others in your life. People with sleep apnea are more likely to experience:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Diabetes
  • Weight gain
  • Sexual dysfunction, including erectile dysfunction and loss of sexual pleasure
  • Chronic headaches
  • Serious car accidents
  • Depression and other mood disorders
  • Suicide
  • Memory problems
  • More complications from COVID-19

Sleep apnea is particularly hard on the heart. When the brain senses low oxygen levels because breathing has stopped, it tells the heart to pump harder to increase the oxygen distribution in the blood.

The disruption of heart function starts as blood pressure spikes. Over time, blood pressure becomes permanently elevated to the point where it’s resistant to common medications. This leads to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

If a person survives their first heart attack or stroke, sleep apnea can make recovery much harder. People with untreated sleep apnea are more likely to end up in the hospital shortly after their release and often experience additional problems like depression that worsen their long-term recovery prospects.

Because of these and other dangers, you should be watchful of warning signs of sleep apnea, especially if you are a middle-aged man like Saget.

Sleep Apnea Warning Signs to Watch for

The good news is that sleep apnea is treatable once it’s detected and diagnosed. Keep watch for common signs of sleep apnea, such as:

  • Snoring
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Waking up unrested
  • Morning headaches
  • Loss of focus or interest
  • Frequent waking at night
  • Frequent urination at night
  • Poor work performance
  • Changes to facial appearance

Snoring is one of the most easily detected signs of sleep apnea. For people with sleeping partners, snoring often tips them off about their risk. If you sleep alone, you may be able to detect snoring if you use a phone app that causes it to record when it detects noise.

Be on the lookout for symptoms of fatigue. This might include chronic tiredness or sleepiness. Fatigue can also cause dizziness and make it hard for you to make decisions. You might experience muscle soreness or weakness.

One secret symptom of sleep apnea is that it can cause changes to your facial appearance. Nighttime bruxism–clenching and grinding of teeth–is common in people with sleep apnea. Your jaw clenches to try to brace your airway against collapse. This can not only damage your teeth–wearing them down–it can build up your jaw muscles. The result is a shorter and wider-looking face.

Get Tested for Sleep Apnea in Columbus, OH

If you suspect you might have sleep apnea, sleep dentist Dr. Mike Firouzian can help you get tested and know the truth. Most people can take an inexpensive and convenient home sleep test for sleep apnea.

To learn more about your risk of sleep apnea, please call (614) 848-5001 or use our online form today to schedule an appointment at Firouzian Dentistry in Columbus, OH.