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Beware Sleep Apnea May Lead To Serious Conditions

Sleep apnea is a chronic medical condition where the affected patient repetitively stops breathing during sleep. These pauses in breathing can last 10 seconds or more and cause reduced oxygen levels in the blood. Obstructive Apnea is caused by obstruction of the upper airway. Central sleep apnea is caused by a failure of the brain to initiate a breath. It can cause and make worse other medical conditions, including hypertension, heart failure, stroke and diabetes. The frequency and duration on these lapses in breathing determine if it is mild, moderate or severe sleep apnea. Doctors diagnose Apnea with an overnight sleep test called a “sleep study”.

Sleep apnea symptoms, in my case, were first people would ask me if I knew that snored. I would usually joke that “I never stayed awake long enough to find out”. Later, this joke would come back to haunt me, as the snoring began wake me up. As the sleep apnea syndrome progressed I would awaken gasping for breath and choking.

Not connecting the creeping sleeping disorder, I went to my doctor complaining of being chronically fatigued and having a lack of energy. Of all tests and questions I went through, how was I sleeping was never asked. Unfortunately, I never thought to bring up the subject, guess did not want to admit to doctors that I snored.

Undiagnosed, the sleep apnea effects grew worse as the ability to concentrate began to slowly diminish. Part of the problem is all the sleep apnea symptoms do not come all at once but slowly build up over time. The brain becomes starved for oxygen so you do not reach the deeper levels of sleep and that affects you in a negative way when awake.

The effects I experienced were at first I would fall asleep watching television, then doing tedious work at my desk. I would be adding up inventory numbers and doze off long enough to lose my place and have to start over. This began to happen so often that a 15-minute inventory report would take well over an hour.

Then the scary part came, as I began to fall asleep while driving. Not just during long trips but many times in short ten or fifteen minute trips. I had to be driven around and guess what I would do, fall asleep.

Things would have continued progressively worse as recent studies show. Mild sleep apnea means stopping breathing less than 15 times per hour of sleep, moderate means stopping breathing 15 to 29 times per hour, and severe means stopping breathing 30 or more times per hour. This stopping of breathing in as little as 11 minutes per night doubles the risk of death and this effect is cumulative, building up over decades. As well, the fact that the lack of oxygen supplied to the brain leads to Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Fortunately, having met my wife. She noticed that while asleep I quit breathing and she became worried. She told our doctor her concerns and he set up an appointment with a sleep disorder specialist. I then spent the night at a sleep clinic, hooked up to a bunch of wires for my sleep test and sleep apnea diagnoses. Yes, I had severe sleep apnea.

Among the symptoms are snoring, fatigue, sleepiness in the daytime, headaches, swelling of the legs and nighttime heartburn. Some have nighttime sweating and chest pain. Often waking up startled, choking and gasping for air a because of the lack of oxygen and trying to maintain a normal breathing cycle, this pattern of irregular breathing continues once sleep has taken over again. This sleep and oxygen deprivation has long-term effects that can be very serious.

High Blood Pressure
As the body struggles for oxygen, its carbon dioxide level within the blood shoots up. Waking the sleeper momentarily so that he can start to breath properly again. The pattern repeats itself throughout the night and the heart has to work harder creating a rise in blood pressure. Left unchecked, the stress sleep apnea will place on the heart and the increased blood pressure can lead to serious heart disease, stroke or even heart failure. Often sleep apnea sufferers are not aware that they wake up and go back to sleep.

Obesity cpap machine
Often people who struggle with sleep apnea have a tendency to be overweight. Studies have shown that many were overweight to begin with and that weight contributes to sleep apnea. It is also true, that sleep and oxygen deprivation slows down the metabolism and more effort is required to burn calories. In addition, people who feel sluggish tend to eat more and exercise less.

Sleep apnea affects the serotonin balance. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that relays messages from one area of the brain to another. Because of the widespread distribution of its cells, it influences a variety of psychological and other body functions. The brain cells influenced by serotonin includes those related to mood, sexual desire and function, appetite, sleep, memory, learning, temperature regulation, and some social behavior.

When your body and brain are tired from lack of sleep, daily routines become very difficult. Work, school and social relationships suffer because there is little energy to devote to them. The nervous system and the brain are fatigued causing delayed reactions, which leads to more injuries and accidents.



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