Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea… Causes, Symptoms & Testing

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition that increases the risk of stroke, heart attack and psychotic episodes. While the consequences of the condition can be extremely damaging, a large number of Americans may suffer from it, without ever knowing or getting tested.

What is obstructive sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is characterised by pauses in a normal breathing pattern during sleep, with breathing stopping for between 10 – 60 seconds, sometimes up to 300 times every night. It is caused by the collapse of the upper airway resulting in a restricted airflow. This collapse occurs on average every 90 seconds, resulting in oxygen and sleep deprivation.

At present, it is believed that around 40 million Americans suffer from a degree of obstructive sleep apnea with the potential for serious complications.

What are the causes of obstructive sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is the result of the soft tissue at the back of the throat collapsing, closing the airway and constricting breathing. From this point, due to the reduced breathing frequency, the blood oxygen level of the body drops.

This in turn results in reduced oxygen to the brain, which causes the brain to signal the body to wake up and take a breath. A number of factors contribute to the development of obstructive sleep apnea.

These include:

  • The anatomy of an individual’s palate and soft palate.
  • The tongue can fall to the back of the mouth, which often occurs when an individual lies flat on their back.
  • The presence of a deviated septum, the central wall of the nose separating your nostrils.
  • The throat walls can close / fall together, resulting in a narrowed / closed airway.
  • Inflammation of turbinates, filters found in the nose.
  • Increase body weight, with around 70% of obese patient’s observed to have OSA.

Implications of obstructive sleep apnea?

There are a number of varying symptoms and side-effects of obstructive sleep apnea. Some symptoms include:

  • Excessive snoring
  • Hearing loss
  • Heartburn
  • Headaches
  • Bed wetting / frequent toilet stops
  • Night restlessness
  • Amnesia and / or hallucinations

Some of the complications include:

  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Increased risk of a heart attack
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Increased risk of liver disease
  • Hypertension
  • Personality changes
  • Decrease sex drive / impotence
  • Sudden death

Testing for obstructive sleep apnea

Testing is readily accessible. It involves an ambulatory polysomnography (PSG) test, which measures: EEG, ECG, heart rate, sleep staging, snoring, respiratory effort, sleep movement and oximetry. The PSG test involves the patient sleeping in the comfort of their own home for one night, which allows for a cheaper, easier test than one performed in a hospital or private sleep clinic. The results are then assessed by sleep physicians, who can report any abnormalities observed to the patient’s doctor.

For more details on testing and sleep disorders, please make an appointment with Dr. Mac Lee, Edna TX.