What is Sleep Apnea?: Symptoms & Complications

sleep apnea

photo: Ben White on Unsplash

Did you know that sleep apnea can impact children and teenagers as well as adults? Learn more about the potentially dangerous sleep disorder here!

Simply put, sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. This condition impacts both males and females and can occur at any age— even in children. If you believe you or a loved one may have this problem, please consult with a doctor. Proper treatment can address symptoms and might help you prevent serious health complications.

Types of Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea: Occurs when the muscles in your throat relax, causing the airway to narrow or even close as a you breathe in. The brain senses your inability to breathe and briefly awakens you so that you can reopen your airway.
Central sleep apnea: Your brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. This form is less common and may cause you to wake up with shortness of breath and can cause sleep difficulties.
Complex sleep apnea syndrome: When an individual has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Signs and Symptoms

– Loud snoring
– Gasping for air while sleeping
– Waking up with a dry mouth
– Periods where you stop breathing during sleep (reported by bed partner)
– Experiencing headaches in the morning
Insomnia
– Problems focusing
– Sexual dysfunction or decreased libido
– Increased Irritability

Potential Health Complications

Daytime fatigue: This disorder makes getting restorative sleep impossible and leads to severe daytime drowsiness, fatigue, and irritability.
Issues concentrating: You have trouble keeping alert at work and while doing tasks such as driving. Individuals with sleep apnea have an increased risk of vehicle and workplace accidents.
Irritability: You feel quick-tempered, moody, or depressed.
High blood pressure or heart problems: Sleep apnea causes sudden drops in blood oxygen levels, which increase blood pressure and strain the cardiovascular system. Obstructive sleep apnea might also up your risk of recurrent heart attack, stroke, and abnormal heartbeats.
Type 2 diabetes:  This condition increases your risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Metabolic syndrome: This issue includes high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood sugar, and an increased waist size. It is also linked to a higher risk of heart disease.
Eye disorders: Glaucoma, dry eye, or keratoconus can develop.
Liver problems: Those with this issue are more likely to have abnormal results on liver function tests. Their livers are also more likely to show signs of scarring (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease).
Pregnancy complications: Problems include gestational diabetes and gestational high blood pressure.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Medical professionals use sleep studies to officially diagnose sleep apnea. During this time, they monitor the number of episodes of slow or stopped breathing and the number of events detected in an hour. They also look at whether oxygen levels in the blood are lower during these periods. Breathing devices such as continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) machines worn while sleeping and lifestyle changes are common sleep apnea treatments. Left unchecked, this problem can lead to a wider range of health problems such as cancer, cognitive disorders, and behavioral disorders.

Be sure to share this information with family and friends!

Sources: Mayo Clinic, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute 

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