Updated: May 27
How many of you would like to have a restful night? Many people complain about having a partner that snores the entire night, interrupting their precious time of sleep and rest. What they don’t know is that they are possibly sleeping with an undiagnosed sleep apnea patient. That is because, of all the adults in the U.S. that suffer from sleep apnea, 90% of them are undiagnosed. The problem is, like with many other conditions, that sleep apnea has its complications. Although the patients get their complications treated, sleep apnea, which might be the root of the problem, remains undiagnosed. But don’t worry, there are ways to diagnose it and get it treated.
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What is sleep apnea?
In simple words, sleep apnea is a serious disorder in which the person stops breathing because the airway gets blocked while sleeping or they do not receive the signal between the brain and the breathing muscles. This interruption prevents the free passage of air to the lungs. If the air cannot move freely in and out of your body, you are in a very dangerous situation. Not breathing properly prevents the body from getting the oxygen to be carried into the bloodstream to the rest of the body. When the body doesn’t receive the proper levels of oxygen, it cannot function adequately.
Types of sleep apnea
There are three types of sleep apnea. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the most common type. A blockage in your nose or throat causes it. Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) is another type. Central sleep apnea happens when your brain does not send the proper signal to the breathing muscles to function, therefore making you stop breathing repeatedly while you sleep. Mixed or Complex Sleep Apnea is the third type. This last one, as the name mentions, is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea.
Undiagnosed or untreated Sleep Apnea puts you at risk of suffering serious conditions. For example, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, stroke, glaucoma, arrhythmias, pulmonary hypertension, and premature death, among others. Therefore, it is so important to be diagnosed and get treated.
As always, some factors put you at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea. For example, being overweight, age older than 40, having a large neck, a recessed chin, a small jaw, or a large overbite. Also, you are at high risk if you have a family history of sleep apnea, are a man, or are a menopausal woman. Using tobacco or alcohol puts you at risk as well.
If you pay attention to your body, you could start noticing some of these symptoms. People with sleep apnea can present very loud snoring, may awake frequently after gasping for air, and make several trips to the bathroom. Also, they might suffer sexual dysfunction and unexplained night sweats. Usually, because of the lack of sleep, the persons suffering from sleep apnea might feel very sleepy and tired the next day. That lack of sleep and rest makes them feel depressed. They also can awake with a headache and trouble with concentration. The symptoms could be just one or two, or there could be many.
Fortunately, there are ways to diagnose sleep apnea. The diagnosis is possible either with nocturnal polysomnography or a home sleep test. Polysomnography monitors several things. With it, your heart, lungs, and brain activity get monitored along with your breathing patterns, arms, and legs movements, and blood oxygen levels while you are sleeping. The home sleep test will monitor your heart rate, blood oxygen level, airflow, and breathing patterns. Your doctor can determine the most appropriate plan of care for you after the test results. He/she might refer you to different specialist doctors to determine where the sleep apnea problem comes from. It can be through an ear, nose, and throat specialist, a heart doctor, or a nervous system doctor.
The different treatment options available vary depending on the severity and cause of sleep apnea. It can be just a simple lifestyle modification in cases of mild sleep apnea. For example, you might only need to change your diet, start exercising, stop alcohol consumption, and cease smoking to improve your symptoms. In cases that are moderate or severe, one treatment option could be the use of a breathing mask that will allow a machine to deliver continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) to your lungs. There are also devices to help you keep your mouth open, or you might need supplemental oxygen while sleeping. Physicians keep surgery for when other measures have failed.
There are different ways to treat Sleep Apnea, including those not mentioned in this post. But the most important thing you can do is visit your doctor and talk to him about your symptoms and your medical/family history. Everything needs to be taken into consideration to order the tests for a correct diagnosis. Meanwhile, try to keep as healthy as possible and stay tuned for the next topic in this blog.
1. Central Sleep Apnea. American Sleep Apnea Association. https://www.sleepapnea.org/learn/sleep-apnea/central-sleep-apnea/ Accessed on January 13, 2021.
2. Sleep Apnea. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sleep-apnea/ Accessed January 13, 2021.
3. Sleep Apnea. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-apnea/ Accessed January 13, 2021.
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