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What is Sleep Apnea, and Do I Have it?

What is sleep apnea and which effects does it have on the body? Sleep apnea is a medical condition that affects a person when they are sleeping and impairs his or her breathing.


The fact that this happens during sleep is precisely why so many people with this condition remain undiagnosed. Most people will think that they suffer from a type of snoring disorder. Usually this condition will only be diagnosed when a partner or spouse complains about being kept awake at night.

Apnea is derived from the Greek language. When translated its literal meaning is "without breath". While you sleep you can stop breathing either partially or completely. This process repeats itself and can last between seconds and minutes depending on the particular case. 

When breathing stops, the oxygen saturation levels in the blood can drop dangerously low. This drop will put an enormous strain on the heart and vital organs. The heart's work rate will increase dramatically just to keep the body's vital organs supplied with fresh oxygen.  

The body has a natural defense mechanism to combat the lack of oxygen being supplied to the lungs. If your breathing stops while you are sleeping, you will be jolted or roused out of your sleep cycle to try and resupply the body with fresh oxygenated blood. 

Most sufferers will be completely unaware of these nighttime occurrences, but if you have ever woken up coughing or gasping for air, it is more than likely you suffer from a type of sleep apnea. Depending on which type you suffer from, the symptoms and causes can differ and range from mild sleep apnea to severe. 

There are two main types of the disorder but there is also a third condition that combines these types. These disorders can be found in people of all ages, body types and gender. They also stem from different problems so it is important to know which type you have before trying to find out what sleep apnea is exactly.

what is sleep apneaThe first type is obstructive sleep apnea. This is where the upper airway becomes blocked or obstructed. This obstruction is most commonly caused by the relaxation of the throat muscles during sleep.

A partial blockage of the throat will force the air to reach the lungs through a smaller gap in the airway causing the effect known as snoring. 

Many people confuse snoring with sleep related apneas and for that reason rarely go to see a specialist.

The second type is known as central sleep apnea. This is when the signal that is usually sent from the brain, instructing the body to work the muscles that allow us to breathe, is not sent. So unlike obstructive apnea there is no blockage. 

The body needs to continue breathing during the night to survive but is not receiving the correct signals to do so. If you are male, overweight and over 40 years of age the risk of you suffering from this condition is highly increased. 

The third type of the disorder is called mixed, or complex sleep apnea. It is a mixture of both the first and second types. It is thought that mixed apnea often begins as central and then can develop into obstructive

what is sleep apnea11Both types can cause long term damage to your health. Sleep related apnea has been medically linked to a number of life threatening conditions including sleep apnea heart problems, strokes and sudden adult death syndrome.

The two types of apnea on their own can have an adverse effect on your ability to lead a normal healthy life. In some cases of more severe sleep apnea, a person can awaken up to thirty times an hour. This affects the body’s ability to achieve the required number of uninterrupted sleep cycles to feel refreshed and ready for the day ahead.

What is Sleep Apnea Treatment Like?

Sufferers can be prone to falling asleep during the day because they have been deprived of quality sleeping time by the apnea disorder. Falling asleep during the day can have detrimental consequences especially if you work with dangerous machinery or have to drive. 

You could be not only putting yourself at risk but others as well. The good news is that sleep apnea treatment is widely available and can help control the disorder, depending on the severity of each case.

what is sleep apneaAdaptive servo-ventilation (ASV): This machine is designed to regulate your breathing by automatically adjusting the levels of support it gives out, depending on your own breathing. If your breathing is shallow, the pressure will increase and then decrease again as the breathing becomes regular. 

Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure (BPAP):  This device will produce a different amount of air pressure when you are breathing in, and a different amount when you are breathing out. It can also be set to "give" you a breath, if your own breathing has not been detected in a set amount of time.

Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP):  The CPAP machine delivers air pressure to the airway which can help to treat obstructive apnea and is attached to your face via an air mask.  The positive air pressure pumped through the mask will help stop your upper airway from closing while you are sleeping.

 

The Epworth sleepiness scale measures a patient’s likelihood to fall asleep during the day. The patient is asked a series of eight questions, which are then rated on a scale from 0-3. A normal score is anywhere between 0-9. A result which is higher than that can give an indication that the person is suffering from sleep apnea.

 

Oximetry: This test is extremely well used because it can be carried out at home and does not require a person having to be admitted to a sleep clinic. This device measures the blood oxygen levels during sleep. The results can then be analyzed by a specialist to determine whether a person has a sleep related condition.

Nocturnal Polysomnography: This test requires the person to be admitted to a sleep clinic or hospital environment. It measures heart rate, blood pressure, eye movements, muscle movements, blood oxygen levels and respiratory movements during sleep. The test can help diagnose if any condition or disorder is apparent during a person’s sleep cycles.



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