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What Is Sleep Apnea And Who Gets It?

By at February 14, 2011 | 11:56 am | Print

What Is Sleep Apnea And Who Gets It?

What is Sleep Apnea?
By Nurse Kimberly

Today I was prompted to learn more about the disorder known as sleep apnea after I read an alarming article on CNN. The picture under the headline in the article showed a little boy sleeping on his side surrounded by chocolate candies. He was overweight. The point of the picture, as I took it, was to bring awareness that overweight and obese children are suffering from airway disorders. That is both scary and ridiculous. How do we let something get to that point? I am not pointing a finger, just posing a question. So I decided to learn more about the disorder.

What is sleep apnea? There are three different types of sleep apnea. The most common of the three is obstructive sleep apnea. The other two types are known as central sleep apnea and complex sleep apnea. Complex sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea happens when the muscles in your throat relax and block the airway while sleeping. Breathing is intermittently interrupted repeatedly because of this. Sometimes breathing can be disrupted for 10-20 seconds. This can go on all night long. The brain senses that no breath has been taken and briefly wakes one up from sleeping so that the airway can be reopened. This happens so quickly that most people don’t remember it. It is also another reason why people with obstructive sleep apnea often feel tired even after they think they have had a complete nights sleep. Because of the repeated brief intervals of waking up to breath, the body is not able to reach a deep sleep.

Sleep Apnea is a disorder that can lead to serious health consequences and complications. It can lead to having a stroke, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and fatigue. The Mayo clinic says that sleep apnea in children can lead to hyperactivity disorder and sometimes a diagnosis of ADHD. Anyone can develop sleep apnea. It doesn’t matter if your male, female, old, or young you could be at risk.

A common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea is loud snoring often followed by a pause in breathing. Some other signs that someone might be suffering from the disorder are fatigue, dry mouth and sore throat in the morning, long pauses in breathing while asleep, startling and abrupt awakening with shortness of breath, nocturia ( getting up at night to urinate frequently), and morning headaches. Not all people who suffer from these symptoms have obstructive sleep apnea. These are just some of the common symptoms shared by those who do.

There are several risk factors for developing obstructive sleep apnea. Smokers and those who have diabetes are at three times the risk of developing sleep apnea. Those who have high blood pressure, chronic nasal congestion, and a  family history of the sleep disorder are also at a higher risk. In the clinical setting many of the patients I treat diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea are overweight and obese. Not everyone overweight and obese has this disorder but it significantly increases one’s chance for developing it. When someone is overweight and has too much fat deposited around their neck it can easily obstruct their airway. However, thin people can also develop the disorder. There are other risk factors but these highlight some of the most frequently mentioned risk factors.

What happens if a child or an adult are diagnosed with this? How is it treated? There are a series of non invasive tests a doctor can perform to diagnose sleep apnea. Once diagnosed the aggressiveness of treatment will depend on the severity of the disorder. Treatment is necessary in order to help prevent other health consequences.

If sleep apnea is not severe when diagnosed lifestyle changes could be the first line of treatment a doctor recommends. Weight loss, smoking cessation, and refraining from drinking alcohol can sometimes reverse the disorder and are often suggested as treatment for mild sleep apnea. If lifestyle changes don’t improve the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea or if the disorder is more severe more aggressive treatment will be needed. Some of the patients I take care of who suffer from sleep apnea have to wear a mask at night connected to a machine called a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. This prevents their airway from becoming occluded. There are also oral airways, medications, and surgical procedures that can be helpful in treating sleep apnea.

If you, your child, or someone you know suffers from the symptoms mentioned above make an appointment with your physician to discuss your condition further. If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea and your doctor has suggested weight loss look into the My Family Plate FREE Starter Kit. We offer tips, help, and meal plans to help you make healthy lifestyle changes.

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