Pro Football Hall of Famer, Don Shula, has been hospitalized recently due to complications associated with sleep apnea (OSA). The Miami dolphins legendary coach has suffered from fluid retention likely related to sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a common condition. Studies in the 1990’s show that nearly 25% of middle-aged men and 9% of middle-aged women in the United States are afflicted with this condition. This number continues to escalate due to ever increasing rates of obesity. Furthermore, the prevalence of sleep apnea increases with aging. (1-3)

Manifestations of sleep apnea range from daytime fatigue and snoring, to life-threatening conditions such as high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, and diabetes. Sleep apnea was implicated in the premature death of Green Bay Packers defensive end Reggie White in 2004. While the medical profession is quite aware of the dangers associated with sleep apnea, it is estimated that 80-90% of adults with sleep apnea remain undiagnosed. (4)

This number is staggering and presents a serious public health burden to our society. Many patients believe that snoring and fatigue are a normal part of aging or do not pose a threat to their health. However, this is not the case.

Cardiovascular disease or heart disease has been the number one cause of death in the United States for decades. (5) High blood pressure, heart failure and arrhythmias (irregular heart patterns such as atrial fibrillation) are linked to sleep apnea. In addition, the presence of sleep apnea may result in a progression of these medical conditions. Left untreated, sleep apnea results in a higher rate of death in patients with heart disease. The good news is that prompt diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea may lower your risk for developing these health problems. Also, if you have already been diagnosed with heart disease, treatment of sleep apnea can reduce your risk of death, complications and hospitalizations.

As sleep specialists, we are constantly trying to raise patients’ awareness of the risks of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is treatable. Unfortunately, the majority of patients with sleep apnea are not being treated. Our hope is that the public’s desire to seek treatment may be increased by the dialogue created by a prominent figure’s health problems, such as Mr. Shula’s recent hospitalization.

If you or a loved one suffers from snoring and fatigue, please consult your sleep specialist.


1. Young T, Palta M, Dempsey J, et al. The occurrence of sleep-disordered breathing among middle-aged adults. N Eng J Med 1993;328:1230-1235.

2. Bixler E, Vgontzas A, Ten-Have T, et al. Effect of age on sleep apnea in men. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 1998;157:144-148.

3. Santos-Silva R, Tufik S, Conway S, et al. Sao Paulo Epidemiologic Sleep Study: rationale, design, sampling, and procedures. Sleep Med 2009;10:679-685.


5. American Heart Association. Heart disease and stroke statistics-2009 update. Circulation 2009;119:e1-161.

Donald M. Sesso,M.D.
Alan S. Berger, M.D.