What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes you to stop breathing while you are sleeping, thus the term apnea, which means halted breath. In some cases, the breathing is simply shallower, while in other cases, it is completely shut off. This interruption or difficulty with your breathing could occur once or a hundred times per night and vary in the length of time that you do not breathe. When this occurs, your brain and other vital parts of your body are deprived of necessary oxygen.
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are two types of sleep apnea that you could suffer from:
- Central Sleep Apnea – This occurs when the signals from your brain do not reach the muscles that are in charge of your breathing – this form is not very common.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea – This occurs when there is an obstruction in your airway that causes you to stop breathing. This causes your chest muscles to have to work harder to push air from your lungs through your airway.
Symptoms Your Partner Will Notice
Most of the time, your partner will notice that you have sleep apnea before you do. Most people do not waken or do not consciously waken from their breathing episodes. Your partner will notice the loud side effects though. These symptoms could include:
- Extremely loud snoring that keeps your partner up at night.
- Choking or gasping sounds during sleep
- Tossing and turning in your sleep
Physical Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
In addition to the symptoms that your partner might recognize are the symptoms that you might experience. Typically these symptoms present themselves during the day, after a long night of many sleep apnea episodes and include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Difficulty focusing
- Memory loss
- High blood pressure
Who Is at Risk?
There are many people that are at risk for sleep apnea. Among the most common are people that are overweight or have a large neck, typically those that measure greater than 17 inches. The fat deposits in this area could cause the airway to narrow, making it difficult to breathe while at rest. Some people naturally suffer from a narrow airway or have large tonsils that get in the way of breathing at night. If you have a family history, are over the age of 60 or are a woman who has gone through menopause, you are also at risk. Certain lifestyles also increase the risk of sleep apnea including smoking and drinking.
There are many risks involved with sleep apnea, of which the most dangerous is the toll it takes on your cardiovascular system. As your breathing slows, your cardiovascular system has to work harder, which increases your blood pressure and puts a strain on your heart, putting you at risk for a heart condition, including congestive heart failure, stroke and heart attack.
In addition, daytime fatigue can play a large factor in your life. It could put you in danger if you get behind the wheel, make it impossible to focus and make you very irritable. This could cause problems on the road, at work and even with your family life.
If you suspect that you are at risk for sleep apnea, it is important to seek medical attention from your general physician. If you are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, Dr. Taylor can help you find the oral appliance that will alleviate your symptoms and decrease your risk of sleep apnea.