A Wake Up Call
Actress Carrie Fisher’s cause of death was released this week and it was revealed that sleep apnea was a contributing factor to her death. Sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, have become a significant health issue in the United States. It is estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, with 80% of the cases of moderate and severe sleep apnea undiagnosed.
Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by pauses in breathing or periods of shallow breathing during sleep. Each pause can last from a few seconds to several minutes and can happen many times a night. Chronic sleep apnea deprives the brain and body of oxygen.
There are two types of sleep apnea. The more common of the two, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep. With central sleep apnea, unlike OSA, the airway is not blocked, but a failure to signal the muscles to breathe, due to instability in the brain’s respiratory center.
The risk factors for sleep apnea include being male, overweight, over age 40, having a large neck size (17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women), large tonsils or tongue, or a small jaw bone. In addition, having a family history of sleep apnea, Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, nasal obstruction due to a deviated septum, allergies, or sinus problems are also risk factors for sleep apnea.
If left untreated, sleep apnea can result in a number of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease including, heart failure, irregular heart beat, and stroke; diabetes, depression, headaches and worsening ADHD.
It’s important to know the symptoms of sleep apnea.
- Waking up with a very sore or dry throat or waking up with a choking or gasping sensation
- Loud snoring
- Restless sleep
- Awakening frequently or insomnia
- Sleepy – If you are sleepy or lack energy during the day or are sleepy while driving
- Morning headaches
- Forgetfulness, mood changes, and a decreased interest in sex
Your doctor can diagnose sleep apnea with a sleep study, a test that electronically transmits and records specific physical activities while you sleep. Once diagnosed, mild cases of sleep apnea can be treated by changing your behavior. Your doctor may recommend losing weight, avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills, changing sleep positions, and quitting cigarettes if you smoke. More severe apnea is treated with continuous positive airway pressure — (CPAP)– in which a mask is worn over the nose and/or mouth while you sleep. Dental devices can also be prescribed to keep your airway open during sleep. Surgery may be recommended if you have large tonsils, a deviated septum, or other physical symptoms that cause apnea.