Sleep Apnea

Apnea is Greek for �without breath.� Sleep apnea is exactly what it sounds like�sleeping without breathing. Sufferers stop breathing repeatedly in their sleep. This can occur hundreds of times in one sleep session and can last for a minute or more at a time.

Sleep apnea occurs in three forms: obstructive central and mixed. In obstructive sleep apnea the soft tissue in the rear of the throat closes and blocks the airway the passage between the hard palate and the larynx. In central sleep apnea the airway remains clear but the brain fails to tell the chest muscles to breathe. In mixed sleep apnea a combination of both of these situations occurs. Apnea events are usually accompanied by hypopnea�instances where breathing is not fully stopped but still a struggle. During each apnea or hypopnea event the brain stirs the sufferer just enough for them to recommence breathing. Snores and gasps for breath fill the night. As a result the sleep apnea sufferer never gets a full solid night of uninterrupted sleep.

Sleep apnea is common�more than twelve million sufferers exist in the U.S. alone. It can strike at any age though research suggests the condition is more likely to occur if you are male overweight over the age of forty or a smoker. Night time symptoms cannot be observed by the sufferer obviously and daytime symptoms consist mainly of sleepiness�something that most people sleep apnea-affected or not experience. This means that the majority of people with sleep apnea do not even realize that they have a problem and thousands of cases go undiagnosed.

Untreated sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure cardiovascular disease memory difficulties weight gain headaches depression and impotence. As well because sufferers spend get very little REM sleep the �deep sleep� stage of the night when muscles relax and dreams occur their concentration tends to be poor. This poor concentration can lead to all kinds of problems from low productivity at work to falling asleep during meetings or social events. One of the most severe problems sufferers face is dozing off while driving.

If you have been told that you snore it may be worthwhile to mention it to your doctor or dentist. Snoring a signal that the uvula or upper airway has narrowed is a symptom of sleep apnea. Excessive daytime drowsiness unexplained concentration problems and an inability to feel refreshed no matter how many hours of sleep you have had are also warning signs. If you share a bed or room with a spouse or roommate ask them have they noticed that you gasp or have difficulty breathing in your sleep. If you are obese get checked for sleep apnea�your risk for the disorder is higher.

If a doctor suspects sleep apnea he or she will first run blood tests on the patient to analyze levels of hemoglobin oxygen and carbon dioxide. If the tests suggest sleep apnea the patient will attend a sleep laboratory where electrodes and oxygen monitoring devices will examine his or her sleep patters for a night. Heat sensing probes on the upper lip and motion-detecting cloths on the ribcage and abdomen will check for signs of breathing. Sleep specialists use the Apnea-Hypopnea Index (AHI) or the Respiratory Disturbance Index (RDI). These indexes measure the total number of apnea and hypopnea events divided by the total amount of sleep in a night. Ten or more apneas and/or hypopneas per hour of sleep indicate sleep apnea.

Four treatments for sleep apnea exist. For minor cases changing apnea-inducing circumstances�quitting smoking or losing weight for example�may sufficiently improve the condition. More complex cases may require Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) breathing through a face mask connected to a medical air pump beside the bed to hold the airway open. As well a dentist can provide a dental splint to keep the jaw and tongue from moving during sleep. A final option is a uvulopalatopharyngoplasty an operation to remove excess soft tissue from the back of the throat enlarging the upper airway.

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