Understanding Sleep Apnea

Understanding Sleep ApneaSleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing (momentarily) while you are asleep. These pauses in breathing can last anywhere from 30 seconds to 90 seconds and sometimes longer. They can occur numerous times over a short period before a normal breathing pattern begins again—usually with a choking sound or a loud snort. This disorder can be potentially serious and disrupts your sleep; as your breathing becomes shallower or is interrupted, you will move out of deep sleep and into light sleep.

There are two common types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea. This is the most common type of sleep apnea and generally occurs when the throat muscles relax and tissue obstructs the airway.
  • Central sleep apnea. Occurs when the brain does not send the proper signals to the muscles that control your breathing.

Symptoms Associated with Sleep Apnea

Many people experience sleep apnea without realizing it, so often times it goes undiagnosed. However, some common symptoms that could indicate sleep apnea include:

  • Fatigue and excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Morning headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Abrupt awakenings with shortness of breath
  • Loud snoring
  • Cessation of breathing (witnessed by another)
  • Concentration difficulties

If you are noticing these symptoms to the point where they are becoming disruptive to your everyday routine (i.e. falling asleep at work or the inability to sleep well at night) then you should consult your doctor about the possibility of sleep apnea. Untreated sleep apnea can lead to an increased risk of a number of health complications including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias)
  • Daytime accidents due to fatigue

Causes of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea commonly occurs when the muscles in your throat relax, narrowing the central airway. This makes it so that you cannot get an adequate amount of air when you breathe in. It can also occur (in more rare cases) when your brain is not transmitting the proper signals to your muscles.

Your chances of developing sleep apnea are increased if:

  • You are obese. Fat deposits around your upper airway can obstruct your air flow and breathing.
  • You are male. Men are twice as likely to develop sleep apnea as women. (However, if a woman is obese or overweight, her chances are increased).
  • You are older. Sleep apnea is more common in those who are over the age of 60.
  • You smoke tobacco. Smoking increases the amount of inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway.
  • You consume alcohol or sedatives before sleep. These substances can cause the throat muscles to relax.

Treatment of Sleep Apnea

If you are struggling with obesity, sleep apnea is a common health concern that can arise. Maintaining a healthy body weight and a healthier lifestyle is key to treating most cases of sleep apnea. Obesity can be a difficult and debilitating disease and sometimes surgery options such as sleeve gastrectomy or the LAP-BAND are treatment options that will reduce and resolve obesity-related disorders such as sleep apnea. Other treatment options your doctor may recommend could include breathing therapies and oral appliances to assist with your breathing or surgeries to open your airway more.

If you are suffering from sleep apnea Dr. Choi will determine the best treatment option for you based on your current lifestyle.

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