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Sleep apnea is a condition in which you stop breathing while asleep. This condition can cause serious health problems. It increases the risk for stroke, obesity, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure, and high blood pressure. It may also increase the risk for accidents while working or driving, as some people with sleep apnea may fall asleep during those activities.

 

sleep apnea

 

 

Sleep Apnea: Who Gets It?

This condition is more common among older adults, especially adults older than age 65. This could be due to other medical conditions or sleep patterns. Another factor, is being male. Men are more at risk for sleep apnea. Being overweight is also a risk factor.  Other conditions that may be associated with sleep apnea include the following:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Hypothyroid Disease
  • Kidney failure
  • Neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease)
  • Damage to the brainstem caused by encephalitis, stroke, or brain trauma

 

Sleep Apnea: Symptoms

The main symptom is temporary stoppages of breathing while asleep.

Symptoms may also include:

  • Being very tired during the day
  • Waking up often during the night
  • Having headaches in the early morning
  • Poor memory and difficulty concentrating
  • Mood problems

 

Sleep Apnea: Diagnosis

A diagnosis is usually done in a sleep laboratory where your sleep patterns and behavior are monitored electronically through the night.

While you are asleep, several body functions are monitored:

  • Electrical activity of the brain
  • Eye movements
  • Muscle activity
  • Heart rate
  • Breathing patterns
  • Air flow
  • Blood oxygen levels
  • Sleep stages, most notably, that of Rapid Eye Movement sleep (REM sleep)

After the study is completed, the technician will count the number of times that breathing is impaired during sleep and then grade the severity of sleep apnea.

 

Sleep Apnea: Treatments

 

One popular treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which is the preferred initial treatment for most people.

With CPAP, patients wear a mask over their nose and mouth and an air blower forces air through. The air pressure is adjusted so that it is just enough to prevent the upper airway tissues from collapsing during sleep.  CPAP prevents airway closure while it is being used, but apnea episodes will return  if CPAP is stopped.

For patients with moderate to severe apnea, the FDA has recently approved an implantable device called the Remede System. The small machine is surgically placed under the skin in the upper chest area where it helps stimulate the nerve which moves your diaphragm when you breathe. It monitors your respiratory signals while you sleep and helps restore normal breathing patterns.

Medications can be used under some circumstances. Several different medications aimed at improving apnea episodes include acetazolamide, theophylline, and sedative-hypnotic agents.

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