Understanding Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a common, often undiagnosed, sleep disorder afflicting 20 million adult men and women in the U.S. It is characterized by frequent pauses in breathing due to obstruction of the airway. These pauses in breathing can happen 30 times per hour, disrupting healthy sleep and increasing your risk for other serious health conditions. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) can occur in men, women, and children.

Other symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include snoring, insomnia, sweating, sleep awakenings due to gasping or choking, dry mouth, and frequent urination at night. Symptoms of sleep apnea during the day may include sleepiness, fatigue, memory loss, poor productivity, headaches, heartburn, and depression.

Sleep apneas are caused when the muscles in your soft palate, tongue, and tonsils become overly relaxed during sleep, narrowing your airways and stopping your breathing for a few seconds. As a result, your brain is triggered, briefly wakes you up, and re-starts your breathing. This can occur many times in a night, disturbing your sleep without you realizing it.

To diagnose obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor will review your symptoms and perform a physical examination. Polysomnography (recording body measurements during sleep) is performed in a sleep laboratory or at home, providing details on the length and quality of sleep, breathing, and heart rate.

OSA increases the risk of heart disease, irregular heart rhythms, congestive heart failure, hypertension, stroke, and diabetes. It is commonly treated by making lifestyle changes and using a specialized breathing apparatus while sleeping called a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) apparatus. A mask is worn while sleeping, providing a continuous supply of compressed air to keep your airway open. It is a highly effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea and can be adjusted or modified to improve comfort.

Mild symptoms of OSA can be treated by a dental appliance called a mandibular advancement device (MAD). The device is worn over your teeth while sleeping and holds your jaw and tongue in a forward position to increase the opening of your airway. A new technique called INSPIRE is an upper airway stimulation system that includes a small impulse generator implanted beneath the clavicle. It is an outpatient procedure. While you sleep, Inspire opens your airway, allowing you to breathe normally and sleep peacefully. If you have moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea and are not able to use or get consistent benefit from CPAP, you may qualify for this therapy.

Kathia A Ortiz-Cantillo, MD of Amelia Respiratory and Sleep Medicine is Board Certified in Sleep, Pulmonary, and Critical Care Medicine and Physician Board Certified in Internal Medicine. For more information, call (904) 304-9068.