Sleep Apnea: NWHIC
Article title: Sleep Apnea: NWHIC
Conditions: Sleep Apnea
What is sleep
Why is diagnosis important?
Who gets sleep apnea?
What causes sleep apnea?
What are the effects of sleep apnea?
How do I know if I have sleep apnea?
How is sleep apnea diagnosed?
How is sleep apnea treated?
See also . . .
Sleep apnea is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition that is far more common than generally understood. First described in 1965, sleep apnea is a breathing disorder characterized by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep. It owes its name to a Greek word, apnea, meaning"want of breath."
There are two types of sleep apnea: central and obstructive. Central sleep apnea, which is less common, occurs when the brain fails to send the appropriate signals to the breathing muscles to initiate respirations during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea is far more common and occurs when air cannot flow into or out of the person's nose or mouth although efforts to breathe continue.
In a given night, the number of involuntary breathing pauses or "apneic events" may be as high as 20 to 30 or more per hour. These breathing pauses are almost always accompanied by snoring between apnea episodes, although not everyone who snores has this condition.
Early recognition and treatment of sleep apnea is important because it may be associated with irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
Sleep apnea occurs in all age groups and both sexes but is more common in men (it may be underdiagnosed in women) and possibly young African Americans. It has been estimated that as many as 18 million Americans have sleep apnea. People most likely to have or develop sleep apnea include those who snore loudly and also are overweight, or have high blood pressure, or have some physical abnormality in the nose, throat, or other parts of the upper airway. Sleep apnea seems to run in some families, suggesting a possible genetic basis. . Sleep apnea also can occur in obese people when an excess amount of tissue in the airway causes it to be narrowed.
Certain mechanical and structural problems in the airway cause the interruptions in breathing during sleep. In some people, apnea occurs when the throat muscles and tongue relax during sleep and partially block the opening of the airway. When the muscles of the soft palate at the base of the tongue and the uvula (the small fleshy tissue hanging from the center of the back of the throat) relax and sag, the airway becomes blocked, making breathing labored and noisy and even stopping it altogether.
Because of the serious disturbances in their normal sleep patterns, people with sleep apnea often feel very sleepy during the day and their concentration and daytime performance suffer. The consequences of sleep apnea range from annoying to life-threatening. They include depression, high blood pressure, irritability, sexual dysfunction, learning and memory difficulties, and falling asleep while at work, on the phone, or driving. Risk for heart attack and stroke may also increase in those with sleep apnea. In addition, sleep apnea is sometimes implicated in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
People with sleep apnea usually arenít even aware they have a problem and may not believe it when told. For many sleep apnea patients, their spouses are the first ones to suspect that something is wrong, usually from their heavy snoring and apparent struggle to breathe. Coworkers or friends of the sleep apnea victim may notice that the individual falls asleep during the day at inappropriate times (such as while driving a car, working, or talking). It is important that the person see a doctor for evaluation of the sleep problem.
In addition to the primary care physician, pulmonologists, neurologists, or other physicians with specialty training in sleep disorders may be involved in making a definitive diagnosis and initiating treatment. Diagnosis of sleep apnea is not simple because there can be many different reasons for disturbed sleep. Several tests are available for evaluating a person for sleep apnea are are usually performed in a sleep center.
The specific therapy for sleep apnea is tailored to the individual patient based on medical history, physical examination, and the results of polysomnography, a test that records a variety of body functions during sleep. Medications are generally not effective in the treatment of sleep apnea. Oxygen administration may safely benefit certain patients but does not eliminate sleep apnea or prevent daytime sleepiness. Thus, the role of oxygen in the treatment of sleep apnea is controversial, and it is difficult to predict which patients will respond well. It is important that the effectiveness of the selected treatment be verified; this is usually accomplished by polysomnography,. Treatment may include behavioral therapy, physical or mechanical therapy, or surgery.
For more information...
You can find out more about sleep apnea and other sleep disorders by contacting the following organizations:
National Center on Sleep Disorders Research
Two Rockledge Centre Suite 7024
6701 Rockledge Drive MSC 7920
Bethesda, MD 20892-7920
(301) 480-3451 (fax)
This information was abstracted from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Sleep Disorders fact sheet.
Publication date: 1998
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