Sleep Apnea – How You Can Treat It

A common but potentially serious sleep disorder, sleep apnea can lead to various complications if left untreated. Characterized by a cessation of breathing during sleep cycles, often several dozen times a night, sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, headaches, diabetes, weight gain, depression, dangerous levels of daytime drowsiness, and even heart disease and stroke, making it crucial to both diagnose and treat sleep apnea appropriately. He’s some valuable information on what sleep apnea is, how to diagnose it, and how to treat it effectively.


What Is Sleep Apnea?

There are two distinct types of sleep apnea that affect individuals. The first, more common form of the sleep disorder, obstructive sleep apnea, occurs when the muscles of the throat relax too much during sleep, resulting in the obstruction of airways. As these airways close, the body and brain become starved of oxygen until the body’s autonomic response is to wake up partially in order to clear the obstruction.

The second type of sleep apnea, known as central sleep apnea, is neurological in nature. A condition where the brain doesn’t send the proper signals to the muscles of an individual’s body that are responsible for controlling breathing. Again, the result is oxygen starvation and partial awakening in order to shock the body into breathing involuntarily once more.

There is a third type of sleep apnea that is quite rare – complex sleep apnea syndrome. This involves suffering from both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea at the same time and can be quite difficult to treat due to the many-layered nature of the sleep disorder. However, it’s not impossible to treat even complex sleep apnea syndrome, and the alternative – not seeking any treatment at all – is a dangerous game to play considering the health risks associated with untreated sleep apnea.


How to Diagnose Sleep Apnea

If you suspect you are suffering from sleep apnea, it’s important to consult an experienced medical professional such as a pulmonologist or sleep apnea specialist in order to confirm your suspicions. Some of the telltale signs of sleep apnea include pronounced snoring and being told that you cease breathing for significant amounts of time during sleep (often by a partner who has grown concerned by observing the phenomenon).

However, simply suspecting that you have sleep apnea isn’t enough – you need to be diagnosed by a medical professional before you can seek treatment. There are two ways to receive an offical diagnosis – a nocturnal polysomnography test, which involves being monitored overnight by a battery of sensors in a controlled environment such as a sleep center, and an abbreviated version of the same test that you can do in the comfort of your own home.

There are benefits and drawbacks to both kinds of tests. Spending the night in a sleep center can be stressful, as trying to sleep while there are dozens of electrodes and sensors attached to your body is often uncomfortable, to say the least. This leads many to prefer a home sleep test, as there are usually just one or two devices connected to your body. However, home sleep tests gather much less information than a sleep study and could be less conclusive, resulting in additional testing being necessary.


Sleep Apnea Treatment Options

Once a diagnosis of sleep apnea has been confirmed, it’s time to explore treatment options. Depending on the type of sleep apnea you suffer from, you may be referred to additional specialists; in the case of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a visit to an ear, nose, and throat doctor may be in order to see if there any blockages in your nose and throat that may be causing the problem. This may lead to surgical options for clearing these blockages. Meanwhile, central sleep apnea sufferers may be referred to a neurologist or a cardiologist to investigate underlying causes.

Treatment for sleep apnea, as mentioned above, can and sometimes does involve surgery. However, many doctors prefer to start with less invasive treatments, often beginning with lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking. However, most moderate to severe cases will require the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to force air into your lungs as you sleep. Accomplished through a CPAP machine that provides air pressure through a mask worn over the nose and/or mouth, this treatment can be effective in many cases, especially in sleep apnea.

However, one of the most effective treatments for sleep apnea has been found to be bariatric surgery. In cases of obstructive sleep apnea, bariatric surgery – a procedure designed to diminish the size of the stomach or shorten the intestines to aid in weight loss – has been found to be anywhere between 80% to 85% effective. As obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of the sleep disorder, individuals who are both overweight and suffer from this type of sleep apnea may find that specific types of bariatric surgery can help to not just treat their sleep disorder but also improve their quality of life by a significant margin.


Other Treatment Options

In addition to CPAP therapy and bariatric surgery, there is a myriad of other treatment options for sleep apnea. The effectiveness of these treatments vary according to the severity of the condition; dental appliances such as medical mouthguards, designed to alter the shape of your mouth while you sleep, may be enough to treat mild cases of sleep apnea, but moderate to severe cases might still require CPAP therapy and/or surgery as a more effective solution.

Sleep apnea is a complex disorder, one that can be challenging to treat effectively. However, ensuring that your sleep apnea is treated properly is essential to higher levels of overall health, especially since complications from untreated sleep apnea can have serious and life-threatening consequences. Wearing a CPAP mask at night is often found to be uncomfortable, and enduring a painful recovery from bariatric surgery and the resultant lifestyle changes can be more than just a little inconvenient, but deciding to forego treatment unduly endangers your health.

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