It is thought that there are approximately 22 million diagnosed cases of Sleep Apnea in the United States alone. The amount of diagnosed cases continues to increase on an almost daily basis. To get more accurate worldwide statistics regarding Sleep Apnea however is more challenging, as there are still many undiagnosed or misdiagnosed cases.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea is a medical disorder, which affects a person’s ability to breathe properly while sleeping.
The word ‘Apnea’ derives from Ancient Greek, simply meaning ‘The want of breath’.
It is considered to be a chronic health problem as well as a progressive health condition that worsens if it remains undiagnosed and untreated, which is often the case. Sleep Apnea can be described as cessations of breathing during sleep that range in duration from a minimum of ten seconds upwards. In some cases severe Sleep Apnea episodes can even last longer than one minute. It is believed that a person who has a serious case of Sleep Apnea can endure as many as 400 cessations per night.
When a person who suffers from this prevalent sleeping disorder stops breathing in their sleep, the brain partially awakens them in order to force the body to breathe again. This can happen numerous times within a short period, and when it does, the quality of sleep is affected, which can also lead to other medical problems and complications.
There has been a lot of research that has been conducted about Sleep Apnea and its dangers; however, it is a condition that is still widely misunderstood by the medical community today.
Sleep Apnea vs. Snoring
Approximately 90 million people in the USA snore whilst they sleep. Just over half of these are considered to be ‘primary snorers’ with the rest possibly suffering from a potentially dangerous sleeping disorder, Sleep Apnea.
The operative word is ‘possibly’, as it is thought that millions of people with Sleep Apnea are not aware they have a serious sleeping condition.
These two sleep conditions (Sleep Apnea and snoring) are often mistakenly diagnosed for the other. This can sometimes lead to a wrong diagnosis. Just because a person frequently snores, it does not necessarily indicate they have Sleep Apnea. This is why it is imperative to understand the main differences between primary snoring and Sleep Apnea.
Snoring is caused by the throat’s tissues relaxing slightly; this results in only a partially narrowed airway, causing vibrations and sound as the snorer inhales through the nose. Habitual snoring can be the result of the crowding of the airway from adenoids and enlarged tonsils; however, other lifestyle factors also contribute to it, such as being overweight and excessive alcohol consumption.
Louder and more frequent snoring can be a sign of Sleep Apnea, a chronic sleeping condition, which is typified by pauses in the breathing and/or shallow breaths during sleep. Sleep Apnea causes a person to temporarily stop breathing, which can range from just a few seconds to longer periods of a minute or more.
Types of Sleep Apnea
Sleep Apnea is a potentially serious health condition. It can be life threatening if it is left undiagnosed and untreated.
In total, there are three different types of Sleep Apnea – Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) and Mixed Sleep Apnea (a combination of Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Central Sleep Apnea). However, Obstructive Sleep is the most common with an approximate 100,000,000 diagnosed cases worldwide.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea vs. Central Sleep Apnea
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) may be the most common form of Apnea-related sleeping disorders, but it is also the one that goes the most unrecognized. Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the result of a person’s airways being either partially or completely blocked during their sleep.
Throughout a person’s sleep, the throat’s muscles relax, resulting in the tongue or the throat’s fatty tissues to roll back. As a result, the airflow is blocked and thus reduces the blood flow to the brain. As a result, the brain sends signals to the body to partially awaken and breathe again. When this occurs, it is not uncommon for the person to gasp, choke or snort as they try to fight the obstruction of the airways.
When the breathing normalizes again, the brain allows the body to go back to sleep. However, depending on the severity of a person’s OSA, they could be awoken just a few times a night or several hundred times a night. Obstructive Sleep Apnea is measured in three different stages – Mild OSA, Moderate OSA and Severe OSA. The level in which a person is depends on how many episodes of OSA they experience in one night’s sleep.
With Obstructive Sleep Apnea, there are two categorized types of breathing interruptions – apnea and hypopnea.
Apnea refers to the throat’s muscles and soft tissues relaxing too much and collapsing enough to block the throat’s airway completely. In these cases, the throat’s airflow is subsequently blocked for a period of 10 seconds or more. Hypopnea on the other hand refers to the partial blockage of the throat’s airway, which can reduce airflow by 50% or more for a period of at least 10 seconds. The body’s lack of oxygen sends messages to the brain instructing the body to exit a deep sleep so the airway can reopen, allowing breathing to resume as normal.
Additional OSA Symptoms
Typically, a person who suffers from OSA cannot typically detect symptoms themselves. A family member or friend, who is also affected by the OSA sufferer’s irregular sleeping patterns and snoring, usually raises the issue. Common symptoms of OSA include:
In some cases, those suffering from Obstructive Sleep Apnea may also encounter night sweats. In addition to this, it is not uncommon for the person in question to frequently wake up throughout the course of a night to urinate, which just intensifies the broken sleeping patterns even more. Abrupt and constant awakenings are disruptive to a person’s sleep, resulting in lethargy and tiredness throughout the day.
Seek Medical Advice for OSA
If a person experiences a combination of the above OSA symptoms, especially waking up and gasping for breath or choking, they should consult a doctor immediately. Excessive unexplained daytime drowsiness and fatigue also needs immediate medical attention, as this can lead to other more serious sleep disorders such as narcolepsy.
Central Sleep Apnea
Central Sleep Apnea, or CSA, happens when a person’s brain momentarily fails to send a message to the muscles that are responsible for breathing. In comparison to Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which is believed to be more of a mechanical health problem, CSA is thought to be a communication problem. This form of Sleep Apnea is not as common as OSA. 20% of all Sleep Apnea cases are thought to be of the CSA type. Unlike OSA, CSA is usually caused by pre-existing medical problems or health conditions that affect the brain and brainstem, such as strokes, Parkinson’s disease, obesity and heart failure. In addition to this, there are also a few drugs that can lead to CSA like narcotics and painkillers.
Additional CSA Symptoms
The most common CSA symptoms are disrupted breathing and shortness of breath during sleep. However, depending on the individual, there are other possible CSA symptoms such as:
It is also possible for a person with CSA to experience other symptoms, although this is dependent on the specific areas of the body’s nervous system that have been affected. Such symptoms could include:
Risk Factors and Complications
Risk Factors of Sleep Apnea
No one is immune to Sleep Apnea – it can affect anyone. It can even affect young children. While there are some hereditary explanations as to why a person might suffer from Sleep Apnea, there are also a number of other factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing this sleep disorder.
Risk Factors of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Complications from Sleep Apnea
There are still many, who would consider Sleep Apnea to be a mild sleep condition. However, in the medical world it is quite the contrary; it is viewed as a serious medical condition that carries a number of possible mild to serious complications with it; these include:
Dangers of Sleep Apnea
There is more and more evidence being gathered that indicates that undiagnosed and untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnea can impact a person’s personal health. If left untreated OSA can be dangerous, which is why it is important to seek medical attention to lessen the dangers of Sleep Apnea.
Dangers of Sleep Apnea include:
Lifestyle Changes that can Reduce Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Being diagnosed with Sleep Apnea can be frightening and in many ways life altering. However, it must be remembered that it is a treatable condition that can be controlled. A lifestyle change can greatly reduce the effects of Sleep Apnea and its symptoms. There are a number of Sleep Apnea treatment options that are in a person’s control.
Such lifestyle modifications and home remedies can dramatically reduce Sleep Apnea symptoms, however, they should never be used to solely replace a proper medical diagnosis and treatment.
If a person suspects they might have a sleeping disorder like Sleep Apnea, they must consult a doctor to confirm their diagnosis. Here are a number of lifestyle changes to help alleviate Sleep Apnea symptoms and complications: