September 24, 2019

What Happens with Untreated Sleep Apnea?

untreated sleep apnea

What Are the Health Risks of Untreated Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition in which you experience brief pauses in breathing while you’re sleeping. Although breathing resumes, both the amount of sleep and the quality of sleep can be negatively affected by the condition. Untreated sleep apnea can cause a number of problems.

Some of the issues that arise from untreated sleep apnea involve relationships. Bed partners and even people in other rooms may be frequently or continually disturbed by the loud snoring that occurs with sleep apnea.

Other effects of untreated sleep apnea involve the health of the person with the condition. This can include both short-term and long-term effects. Issues can include:


If you have sleep apnea, you may frequently wake up in the morning with a headache. The cause of sleep apnea headaches isn’t precisely known, but it may have to do with low oxygen and high carbon dioxide levels.

Bad Mood

Another consequence of untreated sleep apnea can be irritability. Not getting enough sleep for any reason tends to make people grumpy the next day.


Untreated sleep apnea can cause fatigue and other issues. For example, people with untreated sleep are much more likely to be involved in traffic accidents.

Poor Memory

If you develop sleep apnea and don’t treat it, you may notice that you have a harder time remembering. This can cause problems at work or school.

Decreased Cognitive Function

Another one of the side effects of untreated sleep apnea is having difficulty thinking. Like poor memory, this consequence can cause additional issues.

High Blood Pressure

One of the most significant dangers of untreated sleep apnea is that it can cause or worsen high blood pressure. And prolonged high blood pressure can produce a wide range of medical problems.

Irregular Heartbeat

Untreated sleep apnea can cause the heart to beat irregularly. This abnormal rhythm then increases the risk of issues like developing blood clots.

Heart Disease/Heart Attack

Sleep apnea, if left untreated, can increase your risk of heart disease or a heart attack. This is true both as a direct result of the condition and also because people who are always tired are less inclined to exercise and may eat poorly.


Untreated sleep apnea can increase the risk of stroke. Both low oxygen levels and high blood pressure contribute to this increased risk.

Type 2 Diabetes

Sleep apnea changes glucose metabolism and promotes insulin resistance. As a result, it increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Driving and Work-Related Accidents

As noted above, the fatigue caused by untreated sleep apnea decreases your ability to stay focused on a task, which increases the risk of accidents of all kinds.

Brain Damage

Ultimately, repeated oxygen deprivation can lead to brain damage. Consequently, the longer you have untreated sleep apnea, the greater your risk.

Untreated Sleep Apnea: Frequently Asked Questions

Many people who have sleep apnea have questions about how it will affect them. Some of the most common include:

What Are the Symptoms of Untreated Sleep Apnea?

Untreated sleep apnea symptoms include loud snoring, pauses in breathing noticed by a bed partner, gasping for air while sleeping, frequent bathroom visits during the night, and restless sleep. During the day, people with the condition tend to experience fatigue, morning headaches, excessive sleepiness, depression, and poor concentration.

Can Untreated Sleep Apnea Cause Weight Gain?

Yes. People with sleep apnea may gain weight due to metabolic issues and the development of a more sedentary lifestyle as a result of persistent fatigue.

Can Untreated Sleep Apnea Cause Dementia?

Yes, untreated sleep apnea can damage the brain, causing cognitive issues that are similar to dementia.

Learn More About Sleep Apnea from Baptist Health

Keep learning about sleep apnea causes, treatments and more from Baptist Health.

Learn More.