If you’ve ever encountered someone who snores – boisterously – you know it can easily disrupt a good night’s sleep. Yet, beyond the fact that it’s an annoying interruption for those who are trying to rest, loud snoring can actually represent a serious medical disorder. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a disease with deleterious effects, which currently affects 30% of males and 15% of females in North America. In many cases, patients with this condition will experience a lack of daytime energy, a clear manifestation of an interrupted sleep cycle. However, a select number of patients won’t exhibit any obvious detrimental effects, precluding a timely diagnosis. Whether patients display obvious symptomatology or not, obstructive sleep apnea is known to cause severe cardiovascular disease, and as a result, prompt diagnosis and treatment is critical for these patients. Moreover, studies have also shown that patients with severe sleep apnea have a risk of death three times that of patients without the disease.
Obstructive sleep apnea is defined as a sleep-related disorder whereby there is a collapse of the upper airway passage. This results in reduced airflow into the lungs and an overall decrease in oxygenation. There are a variety of risk factors that predispose patients to sleep apnea with the most commonly encountered varieties being: advancing age, male gender, obesity, and upper airway structural abnormalities. Other associated risks include: nasal congestion, smoking, menopause, genetic predisposition, alcohol, and medications such as benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax) and narcotics. Most patients with obstructive sleep apnea will exhibit loud snoring and daytime sleepiness. In addition to this, patients can also manifest the following conditions: restless sleep, fatigue, lack of concentration, nighttime chest pain, headaches, and decreased libido. A substantial number of patients will awaken throughout the night with choking episodes. The diagnosis of OSA is made by performing a laboratory polysomnography, a test in which a number of physiological variables are measured and recorded during sleep. The test is deemed positive if the patient has a set number of apneic episodes (temporary suspension of breathing) per hour. The treatment for sleep apnea varies depending on the causative factors. Patients might be advised to lose weight, change their sleep positioning, and avoid alcohol. Others will require a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine, which is a respiratory device that delivers pressurized air. Specialized surgery might be required in a more serious subset of patients.
Obstructive sleep apnea causes severe long term impairments such as cognitive defects. In addition to this, it directly affects the cardiovascular system and can produce hypertension, coronary artery disease, cardiac arrhythmias, heart failure, as well as stroke. Physicians generally recommend that if you have a spouse, partner, or family member who is notorious for their loud snoring, asking about their daytime energy levels might lead to the discovery of an important diagnosis; and if they’re having trouble at work or difficulty in performing their daily tasks and errands, they might be suffering from this condition. A formalized diagnostic workup and early intervention almost always results in an improvement in quality of life, as well as a marked reduction in the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.