Sleep apnea affects some 18 million people. 1 in 10 adults reported pauses in breathing with sleep. Snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea. About 59% of adults report snoring, about ¼ of these do so nightly or almost every night (NSF 2002 Asleep in America poll)
Sleep apnea affects 2-10% of the population. It can affect any age from infant to geriatric.
This condition happens during sleep with the near or total collapse of the back of the throat. When this happens, oxygen levels drop, causing several responses by the body including struggling to breathe and partial awakenings. Also, chemicals are released by the body, including many with deleterious effects on the cardiovascular system. Because the cycle of sleep is disrupted, many processes which usually occur during sleep are delayed or incomplete. This can lead to problems problems with growth and immune responses, as well as the consequences outlined below.
Sleep apnea is characterized by snoring, unrefreshing sleep and daytime sleepiness. People may gasp or choke at night. Bed partners may witness breath holding, snorting, and restless sleep.
It can be associated with weight gain and obesity, increasing age (40 to 60 y/o is prime age of diagnosis), male gender more than female,( neck circumference > 17 inches in men, > 16 inches in women). Other factors include smoking, alcohol use, family history of sleep apnea, and hypothyroidism.
The consequences of untreated sleep apnea are related to disrupted, poor quality sleep and include problems with concentration, memory and mood disorders. People with untreated sleep apnea are more likely to have accidents in the home, at the job and behind the wheel. They may have poor job/ school performance, increased family discord and reduced quality of life.
The longterm consequences of untreated sleep apnea are quite severe and include hypertension, coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, cardiac arrhythmias, pulmonary hypertension and diabetes.
People who have the symptoms or conditions described above should be evaluated by a doctor (either their family doctor or a sleep specialist). They may need to be tested for sleep apnea with an overnight sleep study. (More details on this test are available if needed)
Treatment for this condition most often requires a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) mask and machine. Other treatments are available depending on the specifics of the condition and can include surgery.
Treatment of sleep apnea can correct most of the problems described above and can significantly improve the quality of life almost immediately.