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Sleep apnea


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Sleep apnea means obstruction in breathing while sleeping accompanied by frequent and loud episodes of snoring. The airways can get blocked several times, without the person realizing it. It’s certainly a medical condition that requires treatment.


Types of sleep apnea

Obstructive- The most common type of sleep apnea occurs from unusual relaxation of the throat muscles which results in blockage of the airways. People with obstructive sleep apnea snore loudly.

Central- It occurs due to improper functioning of central nervous system- the brain cannot send signals to the muscles that control breathing. Snoring is absent in this type of sleep apnea


Symptoms of sleep apnea

  •  Loud snoring in obstructive sleep apnea
  •  Trouble breathing while sleeping
  •  Getting up suddenly at night
  •  Head and terrible drowsiness in morning
  •  Tiredness and fatigue
  •  Lack of concentration and memory
  •  Dryness inside mouth and throat
  •  Irritation and mood swings due to lack of sleep


Causes and risk factors of sleep apnea

As explained above the reasons behind obstructive and central sleep apnea are entirely different. However there are several risk factors responsible for sleep apnea which are listed below:

  •  People with extra large size of tonsils and tongue
  •  Born with narrow windpipe 
  •  Family history of sleep apnea
  •  Addiction to smoking 
  •  Obese and overweight – extra fat blocks the windpipe
  •  Due to age (above 65 years)- affects performance of the brain
  •  Stroke, heart disease, congestive heart failure, brain tumour, brain injury
  •  Side effect of sedatives, tranquilizers and illegal drugs


Complications of sleep apnea

Sleep apnea can gradually lead to severe disturbance of sleep which makes the individual stressed, fatigued, exhausted and sleep deprived. Under this state the body released stress hormones that can trigger stroke, arrhythmias, heart attack, etc. and spike up your blood pressure. Other complications that might arise in the long term could be disturbance in metabolism (diabetes), abnormal liver function, memory problems, etc.


Diagnosis of sleep apnea

Your doctor will analyse your sleep patterns and check your medical and family history first. He/she will conduct a simple physical exam to check your throat and airways.

You may be referred to a sleep therapist who will take the diagnosis to the next level. In most cases, a nocturnal polysomnography is performed which involves attaching the patient to an monitoring equipment while he/she is sleeping to note respiration, bodily movements, and brain, lung and heart function.

Another important parameter of diagnosis is measurement of blood oxygen and its supply to the brain while being asleep. Your doctor will give you home kits for this purpose.

Other diagnostic tests like ECG, liver function tests, etc. might be recommended to rule out the complications.


Treatment of sleep apnea

There are several management strategies for sleep apnea which aims to establish normal breathing and reduce snoring, fatigue and disruptive symptoms.

Breathing devices and mouth pieces like continuous positive airway pressure, Expiratory positive airway pressure, etc. are given to allow proper air circulation through the airways.

If non surgical therapies fail then surgery might be considered to eliminate the abnormality in your airways.

If your are suffering from other complications like high BP, heart disease, etc. then your doctor would consider treating those as well.

Lifestyle changes for sleep apnea

  •  Losing weight with proper diet and exercise
  •  Quitting smoking and alcohol
  •  Make sure your airways are clean – irrigate them often
  •  Make it a habit to sleep on your side every time you hit the bed

Written by: healthplus24.com team
Date last updated: September 26, 2014