What Is Sleep Apnea, How Does It Affect My Sleep, And What Can I Do About It?

Dr. Reena Mehra answers the question: 'What is Sleep Apnea, How Do I Treat It?'

ByReena Mehra, M.D., Prof. or Pulmonology, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine, University Hospitals Case Medical Ctr.
December 22, 2008, 3:55 PM

— -- Question: What is sleep apnea, how does it affect my sleep, and what can I do about it?

Answer: Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder. And the typical symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea are daytime sleepiness, drowsy driving, snoring, and episodes of stopping breathing that are noted by the bed partner. The reason why sleep apnea is becoming more and more on the radar screen is because it has negative effects on quality of life and also has cardiovascular health effects. As far as quality of life is concerned, it disrupts your sleep.

So it leads you to be sleepy during the daytime. It can also affect your mood in a negative way and it can affect your ability to focus and concentrate on tasks.

Now because sleep apnea is associated with the airway collapsing repetitively during the course of sleep, this is associated with intermittent episodes of oxygen levels decreasing, carbon dioxide levels rising and blood pressure rising as well. So over the long term, this has effects as far as increasing risk for high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and, as two new studies have shown within the last year, even increases risk of mortality.

The typical way we diagnose sleep apnea is by performing a sleep study where you spend an overnight visit in a sleep laboratory typically where we monitor your sleep. The treatment of sleep apnea involves weight loss as extra weight on board is a risk factor for sleep apnea; in addition the mainstay of treatment is something called continuous positive airway pressure therapy, which involves a machine that's connected to tubing, that's connected to a mask, and that machine delivers positive pressure to the airway to split the airway open.

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