Tell me more about Sleep Apnea!

The Greek word "apnea" literally means "without breath." There are three types of apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed; of the three, obstructive is the most common. Central sleep apnea is rare. This type of  apnea is related to the function of  the central nervous system. If you have this type of apnea, the muscles you use to breathe don't get the "go-ahead" signal from your brain. Either the brain doesn't send the signal, or the signal gets interrupted.

Despite the difference in the root cause of each type, in all three, people with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times during the night and often for a minute or longer.

Sleep apnea is very common, as common as adult diabetes, and affects more than twelve million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. Risk factors include being male, overweight, and over the age of forty, but sleep apnea can strike anyone at any age, even children. Yet still because of the lack of awareness by the public and healthcare professionals, the vast majority remain undiagnosed and therefore untreated, despite the fact that this serious disorder can have significant consequences.

Untreated, sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease, memory problems, weight gain, impotency, and headaches. Moreover, untreated sleep apnea may be responsible for job impairment and motor vehicle crashes. Fortunately, sleep apnea can be diagnosed and treated. Several treatment options exist, and research into additional options continues.

When Should Sleep Apnea be Suspected?

For many sleep apnea patients, their bed partners or family members are the first ones to suspect that something is wrong, usually from their heavy snoring and apparent struggle to breathe. Coworkers or friends of the sleep apnea victim may notice that the individual falls asleep during the day at inappropriate times (such as while driving a car, working, or sitting silently watching TV or reading). The patient often does not know he or she has a problem and may not believe it when told. It is important that the person see a doctor for evaluation of the sleep problem.

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