There are more than 200,000 cases of sleep apnea each year in the United States. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where the airway becomes blocked while you are asleep, causing your breathing to stop and start repeatedly. A good night’s sleep is essential to a healthy lifestyle, so we must ensure that it is uninterrupted and safe.

Newfound research

In a recent study conducted by Bradley Phillips, director of UGA’s Biomedical and Health Sciences Institute, researchers investigated the connection between Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and autoimmune diseases. An autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system accidentally attacks healthy cells. Some autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis. Unfortunately, these autoimmune diseases aren’t reversible, they are just something you have to learn to cope with.

The correlation between sleep apnea and autoimmune diseases has been known for sometime, but the research hasn’t been strong enough to reach any conclusions.

What the research shows

Researchers began by looking at four different inflammatory cytokines, particularly cytokines that were higher in individuals with autoimmune disorders. With many different variables evaluated, the research showed that the cytokines in the airways treated for OSA were drastically different than the levels in those with untreated OSA.

Researchers came to the conclusion that long-term hypoxia may be a factor in these different levels. This occurs when the body is unable to receive enough oxygen–a result of untreated OSA. With that being said, airway therapy proves to be an effective treatment of those with OSA.

Moving forward with OSA and autoimmune diseases

This newfound research is continuing to grow, but it is extensive and challenging. The connection between OSA and autoimmune diseases is clear, but it can be unclear if the OSA causes the autoimmune disease, or if it only worsens the underlying disease. Regardless, there is an evident connection, and patients must be aware of the risks that go along with it.