Sleep apnea occurs when your sleep is disturbed by abnormal breathing and it can have many negative health effects including some serious heart and lung problems.
Untreated sleep apnea can result in high blood pressure, heart failure, heart arrhythmias and stroke. Patients who are male, overweight and over age 40 are at particularly high risk. Other risks include large tonsils, large neck circumference, family history of sleep apnea and reflux disease.
People who have sleep apnea stop breathing during sleep—sometimes hundreds of times each night—and this can result in the decreased flow of oxygen to the brain and other vital organs.
When these spells of apnea occur, the patient is never able to achieve a restful deep sleep as they are continually being awakened by the apnea episodes. Symptoms include loud snoring, daytime sleepiness and difficulty concentrating at work or school.
Sleep apnea is diagnosed by a sleep study. In a sleep study, your oxygen levels and sleep status and movements are monitored continuously overnight—this can be done is a special sleep center or in your own home. If you think you have symptoms consistent with sleep apnea you should visit your doctor and discuss further testing.
The good news is that sleep apnea is a very treatable illness. If you have a mild case you may be able to treat the disorder with simple behavioral or lifestyle modification for example:
- -Losing weight.
- -Avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills.
- -Changing sleep positions to improve breathing.
- -Stopping smoking. Smoking can increase the swelling in the upper airway, which may worsen both snoring and apnea.
- -Avoiding sleeping on your back.
For more severe cases, more treatment options exist.
Continuous positive airway pressure — also called CPAP — is a treatment in which a mask is worn over the nose and/or mouth while you sleep. The mask is hooked up to a machine that delivers a continuous flow of air into the nose. This air flow helps keep the airways open so that breathing is regular. CPAP is the most common treatment for sleep apnea.
If you have a deviated nasal septum, enlarged tonsils, or a small lower jaw with an overbite causing the throat to be too narrow, surgery may be needed to correct sleep apnea.
The prognosis for sleep apnea is excellent when treated. Many patients who have high blood pressure or heart rhythm disorders due to sleep apnea find that these often go away with proper therapy.
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