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Sleep apnea

Do you have sleep apnea?

Your nights may be restless, and your spouse is threatening that your snoring is going to move you into another bedroom. Your days find you tired, with early morning headaches, confusion when you awaken and perhaps even occasional hallucinations. These are some typical complaints of a sleep apnea sufferer.

What is sleep apnea?

Those who suffer from sleep apnea stop breathing many times at night when they are asleep and are unaware that this is happening. Anyone can suffer from sleep apnea, and most sufferers don't even realize they have it.

What causes sleep apnea?

The underlying cause of sleep apnea is still unknown. However, researchers believe that it is associated with the central nervous system. There are two types of sleep apnea:

Obstructive (upper airway) sleep apnea
In this most common type of sleep apnea, the muscles of the tongue, throat and larynx relax during sleep, causing the airway in the throat to be blocked. The most common sign of obstructive sleep apnea is snoring.

Central sleep apnea
Some people who complain of insomnia are actually suffering from sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea causes sufferers to awaken several times during the night. As the person falls asleep, the brain stops sending messages to the diaphragm telling it to move. When the diaphragm stops moving, breathing ceases and the person awakens. Central sleep apnea is not common; it accounts for fewer than 5 percent of sleep apnea cases (*From mayoclinic.com).

What symptoms are associated with sleep apnea?

Many sleep apnea symptoms occur during sleep, and the sleep apnea sufferer is totally unaware that these symptoms occur.

  • Frequent partial awakenings.
  • During episodes of apnea, after sleep deepens, breathing stops until the person partially awakens, at which time breathing resumes and the cycle is repeated.
  • Loud snoring, occurring as the person begins to breathe at the end of an apnea episode.
  • Difficulty in awakening the person during apnea episodes. If suddenly awakened, the person does not know where they are.

Some symptoms, such as the ones listed below, are common in sleep apnea sufferers when they are awake:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness, causing changes in the person’s awareness, judgment and emotions. With upper airway sleep apnea, because the person is unaware of the symptoms at night, they have no explanation for why they are so tired during the day. Those who suffer from central sleep apnea attribute their sleepiness to the awareness that they awoke numerous times during the night.
  • Early morning headaches.
  • Hallucinations, occurring when the person is very sleepy.
  • Disorientation, occurring after the person awakens. This is often called the “foggy mind” state.

How does sleep apnea affect the circulatory system?

  • The heart, brain and other vital tissues are periodically deprived of oxygenated blood.
  • Blood pressure in the arteries rises sharply, and the heart slows down and may even stop for up to 8 seconds.
  • Elevated blood pressure caused by sleep apnea may remain elevated during the daytime.
  • In severe cases, abnormal physical conditions can cause death.

How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

A medical examination of a person suffering from sleep apnea may reveal no physical abnormalities while the person is awake. The condition is best detected by examining/observing the person while they are asleep. Specially trained technicians monitor the person’s sleep. Results from the sleep tests, a sleep questionnaire and past medical information are used to help ensure a precise diagnosis.

How is sleep apnea treated?

There are several ways to treat sleep apnea:

  • Behavior modification to assist with weight reduction
  • Medications used to reduce apnea episodes during sleep
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) mask can be worn to bed at night to keep the airway passage open.
  • Surgery can be performed to open the airway passage.

Community Health Network offers a fully-accredited sleep center for sleep tests. The certified physicians and specialized staff are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders through sleep studies. Our full-service Sleep/Wake Disorders Centers offer both expertise and understanding to the patient experiencing sleep-related difficulties.

To be tested for sleep apnea, as with any needed medical test, a physician referral is required. If you currently do not have a physician to refer you, you can Find a Doctor online.

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