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Sleep Apnea

What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a potentially life-altering and life-threatening breathing disorder that occurs during sleep. During an episode of sleep apnea, the upper airway repeatedly collapses, causing breathing (apnea) to stop or be inadequate (hypopnea). This causes frequent awakenings throughout the night, called sleep fragmentation. Sleep fragmentation results in chronic daytime sleepiness.

Prevalence of sleep apnea
Studies show 18 million people (4 percent of men and 2 percent of women) ages 30 to 60 may suffer from sleep apnea with excessive daytime sleepiness, yet most remain undiagnosed and untreated.

Sleep apnea risks
If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to an increased risk of:

  • Heart attack
  • Hypertension
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Stroke
  • Motor vehicle and work-related accidents due to sleepiness
  • Decreased quality of life

Signs and symptoms of sleep apnea

  • Loud snoring interrupted by pauses in breathing
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Gasping or choking during sleep
  • Restless sleep
  • Poor judgment, concentration and memory loss
  • Irritability
  • High blood pressure
  • Chest pain at night
  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Large neck girth (more than 17 inches in men; 16 inches in women)
  • Morning headaches
  • Sexual dysfunction

Diagnosing sleep apnea
If you have several signs and symptoms of sleep apnea, discuss them with your primary care physician, who may refer you for evaluation by a physician who specializes in sleep disorders. A sleep medicine physician may have you undergo a sleep study. You will spend the night in a sleep center specially equipped to monitor breathing and sleep habits. The data collected enables the physician to determine the type and severity of sleep apnea and treatment options.

Treating sleep apnea
There are lifestyle changes you can make that greatly improve the severity of sleep apnea or may even eliminate it. These include weight loss (if needed), healthy sleep habits and avoiding alcohol, sedatives and prescription sleep medications.

In addition, you may be prescribed a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which is a mask worn while sleeping that provides a gentle flow of positive pressure air. The airflow keeps the airway open to prevent collapse. CPAP also eliminates snoring and improves daytime sleepiness, high blood pressure, headaches, irritability and overall quality of life.

Less common treatments include surgery, body position modification and oral appliances, which are effective for some individuals.

If you think you may have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, discuss your symptoms with your physician.Also visit NortonSleepCenter.com to take a Sleep Health Assessment or e-mail sleepisourjob@nortonhealthcare.org for more information.

Returning home
If you have any questions about your care after you return home, call your physician’s office.

This test or treatment is offered at these facilities:

Want to know more about this condition?
Read more about Sleep Apnea in our Health Information Center.

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To find a physician visit our Find a Doc or call (502) 629-1234 for a physician referral.

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