If you have severe sleep apnea, you need to be careful. A new study from Johns Hopkins University finds that people who suffer from it are 46% more likely to die early. Not just from the apnea itself, but from a variety of diseases! Here are the facts, courtesy of Reuters. Sleep apnea is caused by a collapse of the upper airway during sleep. What makes it especially dangerous is that this collapsing happens over and over - sometimes up to 30 times an hour - causing brief interruptions in breathing. In the most severe cases, people will stop breathing for 20 to 30 seconds. Study leader Naresh Punjabi and his team studied 6,400 men and women for an average of eight years. Those with severe sleep apnea were 46% more likely to die from any cause - be it heart failure, stroke, cancer and so on. It has to do with decreased levels of oxygen in the body. This was true regardless of a person's age, gender, race, weight. even their smoking habits! Men in the 40 to 70-year-old range were most at risk. They were twice as likely to die from any cause as men the same age who didn't suffer from the disorder. Dr. David Rapoport is a professor of medicine at New York University and a Member of the NYU Sleep Disorders Center. He says losing weight is a powerful way to fight sleep apnea, which is strongly linked to obesity. The most successful treatment is probably a nasal CPAP mask - that stands for continuous positive airway pressure. It helps keep your airways open while you sleep, so you can breathe normally. He says surgery to remove your tonsils can also be helpful, and so can a mouth guard that pulls your mouth forward, to help keep your airway clear. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that 12 million American adults have sleep apnea. The most common symptoms are excessive snoring and daytime sleepiness. If this describes you - talk to your doctor, because treating it really can mean the difference between life and death.