Sleep apnea reduces the overall health of millions of Americans. It is a very common sleep disorder, affecting one in fifteen Americans, and can have serious health consequences if left untreated. Sleep apnea is characterized by loud snoring and periodic cessation of breathing throughout the night. Breathing often stops for periods of ten to thirty seconds at a time, but can stop for longer periods too. Men are at a higher risk than women. Those who are older are at the highest risk for sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea goes undiagnosed at an unprecedented rate. This is because it is difficult for a doctor, let alone a patient to know it exists. The identifying symptoms occur during sleep when they can’t be easily observed. However, a stay in a sleep clinic can be helpful. So too can the observations of a bed partner.
Varieties of Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is quite common and makes up the majority of sleep apnea cases. As the name implies, this form involves an obstruction that blocks airflow. This can be the result of excess tissues or swollen glands. Sometimes the jaw placement is the cause. Obesity is often the primary cause of sleep apnea, because the increase in skin around the throat leads to a collapsed airway. This is particularly true while sleeping on one’s back.
This condition is dangerous because as a person periodically stops breathing, the oxygen level of the body can drop dangerously low. This forces the heart to work extra hard, trying to circulate blood. Eventually the body reacts as if suffocating. Loud gasps and chokes for breath occur. Stress hormones are released and a person may partially wake up.
Central sleep apnea is the second variety. Although much less common, it has similar results on the body. In this type, breathing problems are a result of problems with the brain. Signals sent to important muscles involved in respiration are often delayed. This results in a cessation of breathing. The body reacts as if suffocating and releases adrenaline as the person gasps for breathe.
Although these types of sleep apnea have very different causes, the results are similar. Oxygen supply is not maintained at appropriate levels. Sleep is disrupted by the release of stress hormones resulting from perceived suffocation. Left untreated, many cardiovascular problems could result. High blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, and heart attacks become more common.
It isn’t always easy to identify sleep apnea. So many cases go untreated simply because those with them aren’t aware of it. However, if you have any suspicion that you could be at risk, it is good to take action and find out if you have sleep apnea. Visiting a sleep clinic is the most surefire way to find out, although it can be expensive. Often a spouse or roommate is able to identify the symptoms while you sleep. It is also possible to record yourself during sleep and then review the findings during the day.
After diagnosis, a sleep specialist can help you determine the appropriate treatment option. Much of the time, it merely takes changes in lifestyle or bad habits to get rid of sleep apnea symptoms.
Seeing your doctor or sleep specialist is an essential step. Each sleep apnea case has its own unique causes and may require certain treatments.