Waking Up to the Serious Problem of Sleep Apnea

(ARA) – Many people struggling to get a restful night’s sleep are unaware that a serious health problem may be keeping them up. Sleep apnea, which affects 18 million Americans, is a disorder which causes breathing to repeatedly pause during sleep. Sleep apnea lowers a person’s blood oxygen level and results in a fragmented sleep pattern – making for a potentially dangerous health situation.

Sleep apnea is linked to major health conditions including diabetes, hypertension, obesity and coronary heart diseases. Often, sleep apnea goes undiagnosed by physicians since it is difficult detecting the condition during a routine office visit. In fact, untreated sleep apnea may cause up to $3.4 billion in additional medical costs in the United States. With the added challenge of having no blood tests available for diagnosing the problem, symptom recognition is extremely important. Discuss the possibility of sleep apnea if you answer positively to the below questions, using the acronym STOP:

Snore – Do you snore loudly?
Tired – Do you often feel tired, fatigued or sleepy during the daytime?
Observed – Has anyone observed you stop breathing during your sleep?
Pressure – Do you have or are you being treated for high blood pressure?

Once identified, a sleep study may need to be administered to confirm the diagnosis, which may require staying overnight in a sleep lab or self-administering a home sleep test.

Treatment may be an ongoing process, but with proper maintenance and care, the quality of life for patients with sleep apnea can improve. Here are some common tips and treatment options. Be sure to consult with your doctor, as they will be able to provide you with the best treatment plan based on your own individual health.

* Positive airway pressure devices (PAP): PAP devices are prescribed by your physician and come with a variety of breathing masks, meant to be worn over the nose and/or the mouth, supplying air into the throat, which prevents the airway from collapsing. These devices are most often obtained from a home health care company and are typically covered by insurance.

* Oral appliances: An oral appliance, which looks like a sports mouth guard or orthodontic retainer, is worn while sleeping and is designed to keep the airway open by preventing the tongue and soft tissues in the back of the throat from collapsing.

* Maintain a healthy weight: About 70 percent of people with sleep apnea are overweight or obese – a common link between diabetes and sleep loss is obesity. Taking steps to lose weight will increase your chances of managing sleep apnea and also reduce the risk of diabetes, a condition that comes with its own set of health problems like kidney disease, heart disease and blindness.

* Avoid alcohol consumption and smoking: Alcohol consumption relaxes the upper airway breathing muscles, which makes it difficult for the airway to remain open, further aggravating sleep apnea symptoms. Smoking swells the upper airway, which also worsens symptoms.

For more information and to see a video series on sleep apnea, visit www.LibertyMedical.com/video.

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