What are the health implications of obstructive sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea has a profound impact on an individual's health. Excessive daytime sleepiness caused by disruption of normal sleep patterns leads to a significant increase in the rate of accidents for obstructive sleep apnea patients, including a sevenfold increase in automobile accidents. Over the long term, obstructive sleep apnea is associated with greater risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease and the National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research estimates that 38,000 cardiovascular deaths due to sleep apnea occur each year.
In addition, loud snoring and intermittent breathing interruptions can affect the quality of sleep of the obstructive sleep apnea patient's bed partner. Witnessing an apnea can be a frightening experience because the obstructive sleep apnea patient appears to be suffocating. Frequently, it is a sleep-deprived bed partner who convinces the apneic patient to seek medical help.

What are the symptoms?

  • excessive daytime sleepiness
  • frequent episodes of obstructed breathing during sleep. (The patient may be unaware of this symptom -- usually the bed partner is extremely aware of this).

Associated features may include:

  • loud snoring
  • morning headaches
  • unrefreshing sleep
  • a dry mouth upon awakening
  • chest retraction during sleep in young children (chest pulls in)
  • high blood pressure
  • overweight
  • irritability
  • change in personality
  • depression
  • difficulty concentrating
  • excessive perspiring during sleep
  • heartburn
  • reduced libido
  • insomnia
  • frequent nocturnal urination (nocturia)
  • restless sleep
  • nocturnal snorting, gasping, choking (may wake self up)
  • rapid weight gain
  • confusion upon awakening

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