Moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea makes you four times more likely to die when the sleep disorder is left untreated in the long term. A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that sleep apnea is independently associated with an increased risk of stroke, cancer and death.

The findings were based on a 20-year follow-up of an ongoing health study. Researchers observed cancer rates were 2.5 times higher in people who had sleep apnea at the study’s onset in 1990. These patients also were four times as likely to have a stroke.

The patients with sleep apnea had an overall mortality rate that was nearly four times higher than patients who didn’t have the sleep disorder at the beginning of the study.

Mild sleep apnea was not associated with any major increased health risks among patients included in the study.

The study took into account and adjusted for factors such as body mass index, cholesterol and blood pressure.

The findings provide further evidence that sleep apnea can have severe long-term consequences for your health if left untreated. The sleep-related breathing disorder is also linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

“Obstructive sleep apnea is a chronic disease that can be destructive to your health,” said American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Dr. Safwan Badr. “People with symptoms of sleep apnea, such as loud and frequent snoring or silent pauses in breathing during sleep, should see a board certified sleep medicine physician for a comprehensive sleep evaluation.”

If you think you may have sleep apnea, schedule an appointment with an AASM-accredited sleep disorders center.