In my last post, I talked about how obstructive sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure, damage the arteries and cause other health conditions.
Because of the stress it puts on the heart, sleep apnea can create an arrhythmia (an irregular heart beat) or atrial fibrillation (AFib) which can lead to blood clots, stroke, and heart problems.
Sleep apnea can also promote insulin resistance and, down the line, type-2 diabetes. Depression, irritability, sexual dysfunction, excessive daytime sleepiness, and memory problems are also common. In fact, a recent study in the journal Neurology found that sleep apnea may even lead to dementia.
Since sleep is interrupted, and people with sleep apnea are always tired, it could be dangerous, even fatal. Many of my patients have been seriously injured because they fell asleep behind the wheel.
Identifying sleep apnea early can be a challenge because 69 percent of Americans are overweight, a risk factor for sleep apnea. Plus, because most of us are not getting enough sleep and are tired all the time, it’s easy to misdiagnose it or overlook it altogether.
And it’s not only those who are overweight and have a thick neck circumference who are diagnosed. People who have narrow set eyes, a narrow nose, and a small chin tend to have it as well.
Making the diagnosis and treating it as soon as possible are important. You can help your doctor make a diagnosis if you know the warning signs:
Chronic snoring. You may not think you snore, but if your spouse is losing sleep over it, you probably are too.
Choking or gasping for air.If you regularly wake up with a chocking sensation, or your spouse hears it during the night, it’s a really good indication you have sleep apnea.
Fatigue. If you still feel tired after a full night’s rest, often need a nap, or tend to fall asleep reading or when you dim the lights for a movie, you should talk to your doctor.
If you have symptoms of sleep apnea, your physician will likely order an overnight sleep study to see if you have sleep apnea and determine how severe it is. I prefer my patients do home sleep studies because they’re more confortable and convenient. RecommendationsDepending on how severe the apnea is, your physician will come up with a plan to help you. Here are some things I recommend for my patients:
Lose weight. Fat around the neck can cause the muscles in the airway to relax and prevent air flow.
Avoid alcohol at night. Even one drink can relax the muscles of the larynx and obstruct the airway.
Change positions. Avoid sleeping on your back which can make breathing difficult. Turn on your side instead.
See your dentist. For mild cases, an oral appliance can help to open the airway.
CPAP. For moderate and severe cases, a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is necessary. Yet if you can lose weight, chances are you won’t be on it forever.