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Lifestyle Awareness: Understanding Sleep Apnea

  By posted Jun 9th 2012
Healthy Living
Lifestyle Awareness: Understanding Sleep Apnea

A condition that often goes undiagnosed by doctors, calls for no blood tests or flu shots is sleep apnea. It's usually brought to light by your bed partner (as incorrect breathing or gaps in breath are common symptoms) or extreme fatigue in your everyday waking life. A leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness, it is categorized by a loud snort or a choking sound during sleep. We had a word with Dr R K Mani, Director- Department of Pulmonology, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine at Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon and understood sleep apnea in detail. Read on...

Sleep Apnea: An Overview

Sleep apnea literally means temporary cessation of breathing during sleep. Any apnea, ie cessation of breathing lasting more than 10 secs is termed sleep apnea. In obstructive sleep apnea the stoppage of breathing occurs because of closure of the upper airway muscles during sleep. This may occur dozens or hundreds of times in the case of the “obstructive sleep apnea syndrome”. The other forms of sleep apnea are the central and mixed forms described below.

Risk Factors Of Sleep Apnea

Obesity is the strongest risk factor but is by no means invariable. Frequently there exists an inborn tendency for floppiness of the upper airway muscles along with congenital structural narrowness of the throat.  Other congenital structural abnormalities such as retracted chin (retrognathia) or facial maldevelopment also predispose to OSA. Thyroid deficiency is also a strong association and OSA in this case may not reverse after correcting hypothyroid state. Alcohol and cigarette smoking are also risk factors.

Symptoms And Signs Of Sleep Apnea

  • Snore loudly
  • Excessive sleepiness during the day
  • Wake up in the middle of night, gasping for breath
  • Suffer from acid reflux
  • Have a dry tongue and throat
  • Drool saliva from one side of your mouth
  • Intermittent pauses in breathing (as observed by partner)
  • Frequent urination at night

Types of Sleep Apnea

  • Central Sleep Apnea: When apnea occurs due to poor drive from the brain and not associated with obstruction at the throat. This occurs rarely in some unusual disorders of the brain.
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Symptoms- Obstruction of the airway during sleep, snoring, excessive sleepiness during daytime and nocturina (the urge to use the bathroom several times at night). Mood swings and impotency could also be due to OSA. Who is at risk- Those who are obese, suffer from hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. Treatment- CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device is prescribed
  • Mixed Sleep Apnea: When apneas of both kinds, i.e., obstructive and central occur together. This, often, is met with severe sleep apnea syndrome.

Treatment options for sleep apnea

If the problem is moderate to severe or you have tried self help strategies and lifestyle changes without success, it is important to see a sleep doctor. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is the standard treatment for moderate to severe sleep apnea.

*Image courtesy: © Thinkstock photos/ Getty Images  



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