Sleep Solutions
Jul 12th 2018

A Sleep Apnea (OSA) Primer

During the last 40 years, medical professionals have come to recognize that getting a good night's sleep is critical to maintaining overall health and wellness. In fact, studies have found that sleep disorders contribute significantly to the incidence of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, heart failure, coronary artery disease, and stroke.

Not surprisingly, a lot of recent sleep research focuses on obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) because millions of adults—a full 12 percent of the population—suffer from this condition in the United States alone. That's why it's vital to understand its causes and symptoms.

What triggers OSA and what damage can it do?

OSA is caused by a collapsed airway that blocks airflow during sleep, disrupting breathing throughout the night and forcing sufferers to awaken briefly to take a breath. Apnea events can occur hundreds of times every night, and because sufferers aren't breathing normally their bodies may experience a number of reactions, including:

  • Reduced blood oxygen levels
  • A slowed heart rate
  • More pressure inside the chest
  • Fragmented sleep
  • High blood pressure, depression, and insomnia are also common consequences of the disorder.

How to recognize OSA

Most experts agree that OSA is still vastly under-recognized. The evidence: 75 percent of people with the disorder remain undiagnosed and untreated. Yet, managing OSA can make a real difference to patient well-being, so it's important to be aware of the following symptoms:

  • Snoring
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Non-refreshing sleep
  • Morning headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability.

Who is most at risk?

People who are obese, who have large necks, or who have crowded airways are particularly susceptible to OSA. The condition is also more prevalent in men, older people, and those with a genetic predisposition. Associated medical conditions include, but aren't limited to, Type II diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and heart arrhythmia. 

OSA — a symptom as well as a condition?

OSA has a negative impact on quality of life, productivity, and mood. What's more, the sleepiness it causes ups the risk of accidents, absenteeism, and workplace errors. And because it significantly affects breathing for up to one-third of the day, it can exacerbate existing high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, depression, and high cholesterol. 

Interestingly, an estimated 50‒75% of heart-failure patients also suffer from OSA, so some researchers have suggested that everyone with chronic heart failure should be screened for sleep apnea. In addition, a recent paper advocated that all diabetics should be assessed for sleep apnea—and that all OSA patients be tested for diabetes. Another study showed that high cholesterol, tobacco use, and ischemic heart conditions are relatively common in sleep apnea sufferers. 

Do you screen patients with these conditions for sleep apnea? Visit our sleep solution to learn more.


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