Sleep Disorders

Sleep Apnea

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Do you find that you wake up many times during the night leaving you feeling tired the following day?    Does your partner complain about your strange, grunt like snoring? If this is the case then you may have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that is not only irritating and tiring but it also may be lead to serious health issues or even death.

The word apnea is Greek for to breathe. In 1965 a group of French Doctors, lead by Dr. Gastault determined that the interruption of sleep happened over and over again every night. In 1978 a Harvard Physician, Dr. John Remmer made the connection between the blockage of the airway and the interruption of sleep. Dr Remmer also coined the phrase “Obstructive Sleep Apnea.”

Sleep apnea occurs when there is a blockage of the airway in the back of the throat. When the sleep apnea patient is sleeping the tissue in the back of the throat blocks the airway stopping any oxygen from getting into the body. The brain is then sent an urgent message that breathing has stopped causing you to wake up immediately. After you are aroused from your sleep you generally fall asleep again only to have the airway in your throat blocked again. This vicious cycle goes on all night.

The consequences of sleep apnea are many. Probably the most dangerous effect of sleep apnea is what it does to your heart. If oxygen is constantly being cutoff your heart has to work harder causing more pressure to be put on it. This could lead to a heart attack or a stroke or even death. The lack of sleep will also make you drowsy the following day. If you spend a lot of time driving this could lead to traffic accidents. 

The most popular method of controlling sleep apnea is by using the CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. The CPAP pushes air into a hose which is connected to a face mask that you wear. The continuous air forces the airway in your throat to remain open thus eliminating the sleep apnea. This method is successful for many, others have found that they can’t adjust to the CPAP mask. 

An overnight sleep study is required before you can receive a CPAP machine. The sleep study is held at a sleep clinic or a hospital. You will be monitored while you sleep to see what degree of sleep apnea you have. After the test the results will be sent to your doctor and he will determine whether a CPAP is right for you. 

Surgery is also an option although it is usually reserved for those who don’t receive any benefit from the CPAP. Recovery time is long and the surgery is not always successful in controlling the sleep apnea. Surgery is definitely a last alternative. 

Sleep apnea can be a dangerous and even life threatening disorder if left untreated. Talk to your doctor if you think that you may be suffering from it.

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