health problemsMajority of the people around the world living with sleep apnea may not realize their breathing is being interrupted while they sleep. Often family members might notice the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea first. If left untreated, sleep apnea can increase the risk of developing other life-threatening heath conditions such as hypertension, stroke and heart disease.

When someone has sleep apnea, their breathing stops or becomes shallow while sleeping. In adults, apnea is considered significant when these pauses in breathing last 10 seconds or longer and occur more than five to 15 or more times an hour.

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type and is caused by the inability to move enough air through the mouth and nose into the lungs because of complete or partial blockage in the upper airways during sleep. When breathing resumes, it often is accompanied by a gasp, snort, body jerk or an arousal.

Symptoms of sleep apnea don’t just affect the quality of sleep, symptoms can present themselves at the start of the day and can lurk until bedtime comes around again.

Nighttime symptoms can include night sweats, restlessness while sleeping, snoring and awaking with sudden sensation of gasping or choking. In the morning, individuals with sleep apnea may have a dry or sore mouth, headaches or difficulty getting up.

The symptoms of sleep apnea don’t end in the morning. During the day, sleep apnea can cause fatigue, forgetfulness, depression or irritability.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, more than 12 million people in the United States suffer from sleep apnea. Those who are overweight are at a greater risk to develop the disorder. Men are much more likely to develop the disorder than pre-menopausal women. Someone with a family history of sleep apnea also may be more likely to develop the disorder.

Children also can develop sleep apnea, often as a result of enlarged adenoids and tonsils. As with adults, when the child’s weight increases significantly, so do the chances of developing sleep apnea.

Most frequently, obstructive sleep apnea occurs in overweight individuals who snore loudly, suffer from insomnia and daytime sleepiness (although in children, sleepiness often is replaced by behavioral problems as a typical complaint).

In these cases, referral to a sleep laboratory for a formal diagnosis should be considered. In the laboratory, patients are monitored throughout their normal sleeping period and the number of apneas is counted. If a significant number of apneas are recorded, adult patients are routinely treated in the laboratory with continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP; a mask that goes over the nose and/or mouth, which is attached to a machine that delivers a gentle column of air that acts as a stint to keep the airways open).

Other therapies include tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy in children, oral devices (mild to moderate sleep apnea), surgeries (including a procedure called an uvulopalatopharyngoplasty), and, in life threatening cases, a tracheostomy.

If sleep apnea is left untreated, it can lead to the increased risk of high blood pressure, which can contribute to the risk for stroke, heart attack or heart failure. Not only is health compromised, but so is safety. As sleep apnea often disrupts sleep, it can lead to severe sleepiness that can raise the risk for work-related or motor vehicle accidents.

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