“February is American Heart Month. Did you know that untreated sleep apnea is associated with high blood pressure, heart failure, arrhythmia, and even stroke! Check out this article from our clinic #Heart.Org for more info. #SLENT #HeartHealth #Snoring #OSA” —-Jon Sorrel, MD ENT Specialist at SLENT.
Yes, sleep apnea is a serious condition that manifests ailments of great proportions over a lengthy period of time. If you live alone, this condition could be ongoing and you may not be aware. So what is it? How is this related to ENT?
By definition, sleep apnea is a sleep disorder for which a person stops breathing for a length of time then restarts breathing… and sometimes gasping for air. This pattern is repeated over and over and left unchecked, will lead to a plethora of health issues. There are two common types of Sleep Apnea:
- I. OSA or Obstructive Sleep Apnea: This is a more common type of apnea. It occurs when the throat relaxes and it is more of a mechanical issue. The tongue falls back against his or her soft palate. Also, the uvula and soft palate fall back against the back of the throat. This leads to a complete blockage in the throat airway. The person expands the chest to inhale, but no air enters the lungs... After anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute, the body triggers a gasp for air. This causes a sudden jolt and the obstruction is cleared. One would think there is not a problem because after all, the body is making sure that air is drawn in. On the contrary, this pattern repeated over and over every night leads to the common symptoms of sleep apnea.
- Everyone on earth in their lifetime will experience a short duration of sleep apnea that would be considered normal and is typically set off by excessive exhaustion or induced by drugs such as heroin, other opiates or alcohol. Acute sleep apnea is not chronic so usually, it will not cause serious illness.
- Chronic sleep apnea, on the other hand, causes frequent disruptions of the body and mind. This leads to headaches, depression, anxiety, irritability, increased blood pressure and particularly the right sides of the heart having a thickening, increased heart rate, unexplained weight gain, gastro-reflux disease, of course snoring, and finally the call sign of sleep apnea and one of the first signs for a diagnosis… daytime somnolence ( daytime sleepiness every day). We are not just talking about a simple falling asleep at work or on other occasions. We are talking you could be midstream talking to a person and simply fall asleep.
- The worst part of apnea is that the person subjects the brain to bout after bout of hypoxia, or an absence of oxygen. This absence of oxygen for short periods of time will cause an increase in blood pressure because the body thinks there must be a demand for more oxygen somewhere. The blood pressure is therefore increased. During an apnea, there is a resistance in the lungs caused by the stopping of air movement. The heart must push more blood into the lungs so the right side of the heart (right ventricle ) works harder for years in some cases. Eventually, the right side begins to fail and so on and so on.
- Also during apnea, a person might wake up on average, 5-30 times. The brain must have slept in order to initiate healing, memory saving mechanisms, and a host of other tasks that are necessary to keep the complex systems of the human functioning properly. It is known that repeated hypoxic events, IS a cause of Alzheimer's. A person may go years and years without a full night's rest and seem to have a noticeable decline in memory and tasks seem to be difficult.
- II. Central sleep apnea (CSA) or central sleep apnea syndrome (CSAS) is the other form of sleep apnea that is less prevalent than OSA. It is where there is an issue of signaling respirations from the central nervous system. It is usually an anatomical problem or a nervous system deficit.
Both are considered dangerous over a long period of time. OSA is far more devastating because many times it's associated with obesity, which plagues a large percentage of Americans.
So how can you get diagnosed? The most common way is to ask your doctor and you will probably be sent to have a sleep study. Sleep studies are often difficult to schedule due to having to leave the comfort of your own home for one night to sleep in a foreign place and bed overnight whereupon, a technician watches you attempt to go to sleep.