Sleeping apnea: Keeping millions awake at night

10 Jan 2013 | Lance Cpl. Joshua Grant

Millions of Americans suffer from obstructive sleep apnea every year but many people of all ages who have the condition don’t realize because they don’t know the symptoms and it’s often undiagnosed.

At the quarterly retiree town hall meeting at Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, Navy Lt. Stephanie Fofi, a three-year family medicine resident, gave the retirees much of the information they needed to recognize if they were suffering from sleep apnea.

It is unknown exactly how many people suffer from OSA, but the World Health Organization published the number could be as high as 100 million worldwide, and states less than 25 percent of cases are diagnosed, said Fofi.

Approximately 4 percent of men and two percent of women over the age of 35 suffer from sleep apnea but most are unaware it’s the cause of their lethargy. Classified as one or more pauses in breathing during the night, sleep apnea is commonly diagnosed through snoring.

“Snoring doesn’t always mean you have sleep apnea,” said Fofi. “When you sleep, parts of your throat muscles relax and cause a block in the air way which vibrates, causing snoring.”

People shouldn’t be too worried if they snore or think they have sleep apnea because the brain automatically wakes you when your breathing pattern is interrupted, said Fofi.

Fofi added breathing abnormalities can happen up to one hundred times per night causing lasting effects during the day.

“It increases the risk of hypertension, stroke and heart attacks, heart failure and heart arrhythmia,” said Fofi. “Untreated it also causes daytime sleepiness that increases risk for work-related and motor vehicle accidents.”

Despite the symptoms and effects of sleep apnea, there are many treatment methods. Surgery, medications, oral appliances and Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machines all help to rid individuals of sleep apnea.

CPAP machines are a type of head gear worn during sleep that regulates air flow to keep breathing consistent at night.

Fofi said OSA is not always an immediate threat, but without treatment it can cause lasting effects which threaten the health and safety of millions.

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