Do You Have Sleep Apnea?

July 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Sleep

Researchers estimate that over 20 million Americans may suffer from undiagnosed sleep apnea. This oversight can result in health conditions that can cause a person’s medical expenses to double over what they would have been if the sleep apnea had been caught in time. While sleep apnea has been considered to affect adults more than children, it appears to run in families and has been implicated in SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Furthermore, it has been discovered that over 87% of overweight diabetics suffer from sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea occurs when you stop breathing during sleep. There are three types of sleep apnea. In central sleep apnea, the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the brain sends the signal, the muscles try to respond, but the airway is blocked. In mixed sleep apnea, both types are occurring in the same person. The lack of oxygen disrupts the normal sleep cycle. While you may not remember waking, you partially awaken and resume breathing. Because the sleep cycle is interrupted, you fail to get the full restorative benefit of deep sleep, even though you appear to have gotten plenty of sleep.

One common indicator of sleep apnea is excessive snoring, especially if it starts and stops. Other common symptoms are headaches, poor memory, irritability, frequent naps, daytime sleepiness, and fatigue. A state of constant sleep deprivation can also result in personality changes and even nausea.

If you doctor suspects sleep apnea, he may ask you a series of questions about sleep habits. He may then do a physical examination of your nose and throat area.

The most common test for sleep apnea is the sleep study. The patient stays overnight at the sleep study center, where machines monitor breathing to determine whether there are any incidents of sleep apnea. The number of times the patient stops breathing is used to score the severity of the apnea.

Non-surgical treatments include behavior modification (such as changing sleep position or losing weight), medication, dental appliances, and CPAP machines (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). Surgical treatments include palate implants, nasal surgery, genioglossus advancement, tongue reduction and bariatric surgery.

It is estimated that only 10% of people who have sleep apnea are receiving treatment for the disorder. However, the lack of treatment can have serious consequences. Some of the risks include: heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, and sudden death, as well as decreased productivity, decreased attentiveness, and a 300% increase in the likelihood of being in a serious car accident due to daytime drowsiness.

If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, check with your doctor right away.

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