Health/Conditions and Diseases

Sleep apnea – what is it and how to know if you have it?

Sleep apnea is a condition characterized by pauses in breathing while the patient is asleep. The pauses in breathing are caused by closing off of the upper passages of the airway causing the body to be deprived of oxygen. The patient wakes up in the middle of the night feeling choked and gasping for air.

In the United States, there are more than 18 million cases of sleep apnea and most of them go undiagnosed, which also means that they don’t receive appropriate treatment. Sleep apnea if left untreated and unmanaged could lead to serious medical conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular-related diseases, and stroke.

Signs and symptoms of sleep apnea you should watch out for include the following:

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·         Snoring – One of the common symptoms associated with sleep apnea is a loud snore. Many of us snore, especially when we had a long day. However, some people snore almost every night even if they are not tired. It has been a chronic scenario and many of them are not even aware of it. Snoring causes vibration which restricts the flow of air in the air passages. A snore that is associated with sleep apnea is characterized as loud, disruptive, and happens every night.

·         Frequent pauses in breathing – In people with sleep apnea, the tongue and fatty tissues of the throat become relaxed during sleep. The tongue blocks the airway causing an insufficient flow of air in the air passages causing the person to stop breathing for a few seconds. This caused a significant drop in oxygen level sending a signal to the brain to wake up from sleep.  The brain partially wakes up but your body remains asleep and you don’t even realize that you are partially awake. This interrupts the quality of sleep. It is one of the reasons why you feel restless upon waking up the following morning.

·         Feeling tired and exhausted – People sleep to give the body ample time to rest and recuperate. Upon waking up the next morning, you should feel relax and rejuvenated. If you feel exhausted and restless even after getting seven to nine hours of sleep, then most likely you have had sleep apnea episodes. Other symptoms include feeling tired all day, difficulty waking up in the morning, the need to take frequent naps, difficulty concentrating, and easy irritability.

·         Frequent headaches – Pauses in breathing at night caused a significant reduction in oxygen in the brain. This causes blood vessels to widen leading to vascular headaches.

·         High blood pressure – People with high blood pressure are prone to having sleep apnea. The spike in blood pressure is caused by an insufficient level of oxygen in the brain secondary to pauses in breathing during sleep. Every night, the body is used to having a restricted blood flow to the brain causing a spike in blood pressure.

·         Overweight/obesity – Sleep apnea is common in overweight or obese people, especially those who have excessive fat tissues in the neck and waistline.

If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is best to see a sleep specialist for thorough medical assessment.