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Ignoring your sleep apnea?
Ignoring your sleep apnea?
Despite the fact that sleep apnea, a very common disorder, can lead to serious medical problems, thousands of men and women with the condition do little or nothing at all about it. Clete Kushida, MD, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, a neurologist and the medical director of the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center, has become renowned for his understanding of sleep apnea. BeWell asked Dr. Kushida to summarize the important clinical facts and treatment options available for people with this often-ignored disorder.
What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?
The primary symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea are daytime sleepiness; witnessed breathing pauses; and loud, disruptive snoring. Secondary symptoms include a dry mouth and throat upon awakening, night sweats and morning headaches.
Who usually notices these symptoms?
Typically the patient and/or the bed partner will notice the symptoms of sleep apnea.
Who has it?
Sleep apnea is very common, affecting about 24% of men between the ages of 30 and 60 and 9% of women in the same age range. Above the age of 60, sleep apnea is thought to be even more prevalent.
What is the biggest misconception about sleep apnea?
Many people assume that only obese individuals get sleep apnea. However, while, an estimated 30-67% of those who have obstructive sleep apnea are obese (as defined by a body mass index of 25 kg/meter2), a significant 33-70% who suffer from this disorder are not obese.
What medical problems can sleep apnea cause?
Sleep apnea can have a profound impact on the cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke as well as predisposing the person to high blood pressure. Sleep apnea can also impact the functioning of the brain, causing memory loss or difficulty with higher-order functions such as driving a car. It is very important to have this disorder diagnosed and treated.
Can it be prevented?
There really is no way to prevent sleep apnea because investigators believe that genetics play an important and currently undefined role. However, weight loss may benefit those who first noted symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea following significant weight gain.
And if I have sleep apnea … what are my treatment options?
There are three main treatments:
- Continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, involves a mask that is fitted over the nose and connected to an air pump via a hose; the pump draws in room air and pushes the air gently into the upper airway, and this moving column of air prevents the airway from collapsing.
- Surgical options can increase the volume of the upper airway by decreasing obstructive soft tissue and displacing bony structures in the jaws to increase airway caliber behind the tongue.
- Oral appliances, similar to mouth guards, move the tongue or the lower jaw forward to allow more space in the upper airway.
Any final thoughts?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a highly prevalent disorder with serious comorbidities and consequences. Fortunately, this disorder is easily diagnosed in a sleep lab or through home sleep testing. Thankfully, effective treatment options are available.
Interview conducted by Julie Croteau and edited by Lane McKenna Ryan.