Patients with sleep apnea stop breathing during sleep because the soft palate collapses and blocks the upper airway. A tell-tale symptom is chronic and loud snoring.
Aging and obesity both can contribute to sleep apnea; research suggests the number of people with the condition will grow, as the population ages. Some experts believe that lack of awareness among some patients and doctors has led to underdiagnosis and that the number of patients actually is closer to 30 million in the US alone.
The most common symptom is snoring; daytime sleepiness is another sign. Sleep apnea heightens a patient’s risk of hypertension, diabetes and heart attacks, because it heightens carbon-dioxide levels in the blood stream and stresses the cardiovascular system.
In addition to a lack of restful and restorative sleep, the untreated sleep apnea patient is at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease leading to heart attack and stroke. They are at greater risk of metabolic syndrome, which can contribute to developing diabetes and obesity. There are many cases of depression, especially in women, that are in fact untreated sleep apnea.
The number of people affected by this disorder ranges into the millions and it is not limited to middle-aged, overweight men—the condition is found in younger men, young and older women and in one to three percent of children as well.
Despite the prevalence, the condition remains under-diagnosed and under-treated.
Sleep apnea is easily diagnosed—in addition to traditional polysomnography, the technology for unattended sleep studies has improved considerably and is becoming more widely accepted.
The condition is also easily and effectively treated. Positive Airway Pressure therapy continues to be the most effective for the most people. An oral appliance, fitted by a dentist qualified in sleep medicine is also a first line therapy for the disorder. New treatment options are also on the horizon, so there will be alternatives to
address each person’s particular needs for treatment.
The American Sleep Apnea Association is the leading non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public and the medical community on the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea. See www.sleepapnea.org