Snooring While You Were Sleeping?


There is a sleep disorder that affects 18 million Americans, and almost 90 percent of those who suffer from it are unaware that they have it. The condition, known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea, or OSA, takes its name from the Greek word “apnea”, which means “without breath.” It is so named because individuals with OSA continually stop breathing during their sleep, often for a minute or longer. Sleep apnea can be caused by either complete obstruction of the airway or partial obstruction, both of which can wake the sleeper up.

Because of the rising numbers of adults being affected by OSA, Dr. Charles W. Atwood Jr. agreed to discuss some of the more common myths surrounding the condition. Dr. Atwood is a board certified pulmonologist and sleep medicine physician at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. He directs the Sleep Medicine outpatient clinic at the UPMC Sleep Medicine Center and is the Director for the VA’s sleep disorders program. Dr. Atwood is an investigator on research examining the role of home-based sleep apnea diagnosis and therapy and the role of bariatric surgery in treating obstructive sleep apnea. Dr. Atwood is also the current Chair of the American College of Chest Physicians’ Sleep Institute.

Myth: OSA only affects men.

Truth: The National Sleep Foundation estimates that 6 million American women suffer from this disorder. New research suggests that OSA is linked to depression and female sexual dysfunction. In addition, gestational OSA can develop in those who are pregnant.

Myth: Only older/overweight people have OSA.

Truth: While weight can be a contributing factor for the development of OSA, people of all shapes, sizes, and ages can be diagnosed with sleep apnea. In those with thin or average builds, excess tissue in the throat or the structure and position of the jaw can play a role in the development of OSA. Other contributing risk factors include the use of alcohol or sedatives, which can relax the tissue and muscles surrounding the upper airway, smoking, a family history of the disorder, and aging.

Myth: I’m healthy, I’m just tired.

Truth: The consequences of untreated OSA go far beyond simply leaving a person exhausted and groggy. Obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, stroke, and sexual dysfunction are just some of the health problems that are connected to sleep apnea.

Myth: Everyone snores, what’s the problem?

Truth: Millions of people snore on and off throughout the night, which is a normal part of sleeping. However, heavy snoring that is accompanied by gasping or choking for air is a leading indicator of OSA. Although this process would seem disturbing during sleep, most OSA sufferers are not aware that this cycle repeats itself hundreds of times every night.

Myth: I am tired because I’m depressed.

Truth: Untreated OSA and depression share similar symptoms such as lethargy, excessive fatigue, trouble concentrating, weight gain, and irritability. While many are quick to recognize these symptoms as a sign of a depressive disorder, they may also be the result of OSA.

Myth: It is uncomfortable to sleep with the mask on.

Truth: CPAP, short for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, is the most common and effective treatment for OSA. CPAP users wear a mask connected to a small machine that supplies continuous airflow through the nose, which prevents the collapse of the airways. Although the majority of people take to the mask right away, some find it uncomfortable and decide to discontinue treatment. However, masks come in many shapes and sizes, so unhappy CPAP users should not hesitate to look into other models.

Myth: Undergoing a study in a sleep lab is too inconvenient.

Truth: Historically, being tested for OSA required patients to spend the night in a certified sleep lab where heart rate, respiration, blood oxygen levels, airflow, and the electrical activity of the brain were monitored. However, earlier this year, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved the reimbursement of CPAP treatment for OSA patients that were diagnosed wearing portable monitoring equipment in the comfort of their own home. This decision could lead to a monumental shift in how millions of OSA sufferers are diagnosed and may result in significantly increased diagnosis and treatment rates.

Myth: OSA doesn’t affect my driving.

Truth: Untreated OSA not only leaves people exhausted, it also makes them a danger on the roads. In fact, a drowsy driver poses just as much risk to his or her self and the motoring public as a drunk driver, because losing four hours of sleep can result in the same cognitive decline as a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent, by which is over the legal limit in the US.

If you believe you be suffering from OSA, talk to your primary care physician to see if testing is available in your area.

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