Sleep Apnea: More Common Than You Might Think!
Sleep apnea is much more common than first thought, with 10% or more of middle aged adults being affected.
Schmalfeldt: Are you doing something in your sleep that could kill you? If you suffer from sleep apnea, the answer to that question could be, "yes. " Dr. Carl Hunt is director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. He said sleep apnea is much more common than first thought, with 10% or more of middle aged adults being affected.
Hunt: Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder, a condition in which people snore loudly and frequently and have intermittent brief pauses in their breathing during sleep. And these pauses have two major problems: they interfere with sleep quality, and during these pauses, oxygen levels briefly decrease, and the decrease in oxygen levels creates a risk for a whole host of cardiovascular-related potential complications.
Schmalfeldt: And the danger doesn't end with the potential heart-related risks.
Hunt: Many people with untreated sleep apnea have excessive daytime sleepiness, which can interfere with work performance and could result in either accidents at the worksite or drowsy-driving accidents.
Schmalfeldt: One of the most insidious things about sleep apnea is that you may not even know you have this dangerous, potentially life-threatening condition until you see a doctor for some other reason.
Hunt: It's possible, in fact, that's fairly typical. People tend to come to the doctor for evaluation either because the bed partner can't sleep anymore because of the disruption from the loud snoring, and perhaps concern for the brief pauses that they hear. The only thing that would bring people to the doctor on their own is that they've had a car accident, or they've had some other situation where they've fallen asleep during the day at a very inappropriate time and they're concerned about it. Not getting enough sleep is a common problem in today's society. So many people with sleep apnea who are tired blame it on their poor sleep habits and just don't spend enough time asleep.
Schmalfeldt: Dr. Hunt talked about some of the treatment options available.
Hunt: The gold standard treatment for this is something called "continuous positive airway pressure " or "CPAP". This is a small mask-like device that goes over the nose and mouth, and people have this in place while they're sleeping. The positive pressure in that system helps to prevent the airway from intermittently collapsing during sleep. And so it reduces the number and severity of these intermittent, brief airway obstructions.
Schmalfeldt: Other treatment options include a dental appliance that keeps the lower jaw and tongue from dropping back and closing off the airway during sleep. For other patients, surgery is an option, although Dr. Hunt said surgery does not seem to be of much benefit for the more severe cases of sleep apnea. NHLBI is funding many large studies which follow participants over longer periods of time to confirm the relationship between sleep apnea and stroke and associated risk factors for cardiovascular problems. From the National Institutes of Health, I'm Bill Schmalfeldt in Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Bill Schmalfeldt
Sound Bite: Dr. Carl Hunt
Topic: Sleep Apnea