Sleep apnea doesn't need any help scaring anyone: It could be killing you a little bit every single night, and you might not even know you have the condition.

But now, researchers say that in addition to leaving you gasping for air in the night, sleep apnea could also be responsible for serious blood vessel abnormalities -- problems that can actually steal blood right from your heart.

The researchers looked at three groups of 36 people: one with moderate to severe sleep apnea with no hypertension, one with hypertension but no apnea, and one set of patients with neither.

They found that both the hypertension patients and the sleep apnea patients had the kinds of blood vessel abnormalities that can interfere with the flow of blood to the heart.

The good news here is that the problem improved among the apnea patients after 26 weeks of sleeping with a continuous
positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.

The bad news is that the apnea patients in the study were all otherwise healthy -- unlike the typical apnea patient, who is usually fighting obesity.

That's not to say a CPAP device won't help them -- but whether you're healthy or obese, it's a short-term solution to a long-term problem. And sleep apnea brings some pretty serious long-term problems: a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, and more.

There's even plenty of evidence that sleep apnea will dramatically boost your risk of an early death, including a study that found a 40-year-old with the condition has the same death risk as a 57-year-old without it.

It's like aging 17 years overnight!

One of the biggest problems with apnea is the diagnosis -- because, as I mentioned earlier, most people who have the condition don't even know it. Apnea is known for causing patients to stop breathing in the night, but in most cases, people sleep right through those episodes.

Some of the warning signs include waking up tired even after a full night of sleep, heavy snoring, anxiety, and headaches (especially in the morning).

If you suspect you might have the condition -- or if your spouse has witnessed you gasping for air in the night -- talk to your doctor about arranging a night in a sleep clinic.

But before you sign up for any treatments, gimmicks, surgery or anything else, try the simplest, safest long-term solution of all: Lose some weight.

Read all about the impact of even modest weight loss on apnea right here.