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It's hard to know if you've even got this condition if you sleep alone. However, if you believe that you are getting enough sleep, but still find yourself falling asleep whenever you sit down, are driving, things like that, you may have sleep apnea.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep Apnea is the intermittent absence of breathing during sleep. The most frequent cause is the relaxed tongue blocking the throat that results in pauses in breathing. Impulses from the brain then awaken the person enough to restart breathing. This cycle repeats hundreds of times during sleep and results in sleep deprivation. Sleep apnea is sometimes referred to as the "Snoring Disease" as snoring is one of the symptoms.

Sleep apnea syndrome is defined as the presence of more than 30 apneas in a 7-hour sleep. In severe cases, periods of not breathing may last for 60 to 90 seconds and may recur up to 500 times a night.

The effects of the lack of sleep caused by sleep apnea are devastating.
It can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness, decreased intellectual functioning, memory loss and depression. This in turn, can lead to loss of employment, marriage break-up and is associated with dementia. It is responsible for car accidents and industrial accidents, and is linked to the development of hypertension. Lack of oxygen at night can also place the heart under strain and lead to other health problems. Untreated sleep apnea can cause premature death from heart attack and stokes. It is also associated with the development of increased blood pressure and, in the elderly, worsened dementia.

Proper diagnosis of a sleep disorder is performed at specialized referral centres.

Sleep studies which document the number, type and duration of periods of no breathing as well as sleep pattern and heart rhythm assist in the diagnosis. Screening of people with respiratory sleep disorders can be accomplished through daytime studies, although a complete overnight study is required for a definitive diagnosis. Polysomography is a test that is used to measure whether you have sleep apnea.

There is a very effective treatment for sleep apnea.
Patients wear a special mask at night that is connected to an airflow generator. The increased air pressure keeps the airway open and patients can get all the sleep they need. The proper levels of air pressure can be established on an out-patient basis. This treatment method is called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure or C.P.A.P.

Signs and Symptons Which May Indicate Sleep Apnea

  • Snoring with pauses in breathing (apnea)
  • Excess daytime sleepiness
  • Gasping or choking during sleep
  • Restless sleep
  • Problem with mental function
  • Poor judgement/can’t focus
  • Memory loss
  • Quick to anger
  • High blood pressure
  • Nighttime chest pain
  • Depression
  • Problem with excess weight
  • Large neck (>17” around in men, >16” around in women)
  • Airway crowding
  • Morning headaches
  • Sexual problems
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom at night

If you are concerned that you may have sleep apnea, you should consult a physician. There are tests that can measure whether or not you have obstructive sleep apnea

This material is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for the medical advice of your doctor or any other health care professional. Always consult with your physician if you are in any way concerned about your health.

© 2003 SLPM Self care Ltd.

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