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What is Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a temporary pause in breathing or shallow breaths during one's sleep. It is s a common problem, particularly for the elderly. The stoppage can last from a few seconds to minutes and can occur 30 or more times in an hour. After a pause, normal breathing starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound. Most people do not even know that they have sleep apnea as it occurs only during sleep. A pulse oximeter, along with a questionnaire, can be an excellent tool for screening sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can lead to hypoxia or low oxygen saturation level, which can be detected with a pulse oximeter.

Sleep apnea, when severe, can be deadly and is related to a variety of heart and breathing problems, including heart arrhythmias, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, and even heart failure. It is a peculiarity of this noisy disease that it announces itself to everyone within earshot -- except its victims. Consult a doctor immediately if you have the symptoms. Sleep apnea contributed to the death of Reggie White, a NFL Fall of Famer.

Sleep apnea is a chronic disorder and normally disrupts your sleep as often as three or nights a week. When an apnea occurs, you often transition from a deep sleep into light sleep resulting in insufficient rest. The result is poor sleep quality that makes you fatigue during the day and excessive daytime sleepiness. The Epworth Sleepiness Scale helps to determine your severity of daytime sleepiness.

Sleep apnea is extremely common for older persons. More than 50% of people over 60 years old have sleep apnea. For middle aged people, 6% of women and 9% of men have sleep apnea. This is not a disease to be ignored. The clinical score can give you some indications of your risk.

Besides unexplained daytime sleepiness, other common signs of sleep apnea are: restless sleep and loud snoring (with periods of silence followed by gasps). Less common symptoms are morning headaches; insomnia; trouble concentrating; mood changes such as irritability, anxiety and depression; forgetfulness; increased heart rate and/or blood pressure; decreased sex drive; unexplained weight gain; increased urination and/or nocturia; frequent heartburn or Gastroesophageal reflux disease; and heavy night sweats.

There are three basic kinds of sleep apnea: the pure central type (CSA), which is caused by problems with the lungs or the breathing mechanism; the obstructive type (OSA), in which breathing is interrupted by a physical block to airflow; and mixed sleep apnea (MSA), which combines features of both. In a mixed sleep apnea, when a CSA apnea ends, a physical bloackage occurs that prolongs the apnea. Because the vast majority of cases are obstructive, when people discuss sleep apnea, most of the time they are referring to OSA.

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