Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What should I know about sleep apnea?

This article gives information on the different types of sleep apnea and the available treatments.

Sleep apnea is a type of sleep disorder characterized by interruptions or pauses in breathing during sleep. These interruptions can be significant and can be potentially life threatening. Because of this, the disorder can have an important impact on quality of life as well as the health of a patient.

Kim LaJack, Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Opelousas General Health System, says symptoms of sleep apnea might include loud snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness and feelings of exhaustion upon awakening, as if sleep had never taken place. Other symptoms include depression, irritability, morning headaches, loss of sex drive, lack of concentration and memory problems.

If untreated, sleep apnea can lead to accidents due to drowsy driving as well as health issues such as hypertension, heart attacks, diabetes and strokes, according to LaJack. 

The Three Types of Sleep Apnea 

1. Obstructive sleep apnea: OSA is essentially breathing that is interrupted by a physical block to airflow despite respiratory effort, causing complete or partial closure of the airway during sleep. The three causes for OSA are enlarged tonsils blocking the airway, an enlarged neck or a large tongue blocking the airway. 

2. Central sleep apnea: This type of sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to send the appropriate signal to the muscles responsible for initiating breathing. “We see this with patients who have neuromuscular disorders or who are on a lot of pain medication,” LaJack explains. “Sometimes patients with heart failure also experience central sleep apnea.” 

3. Complex sleep apnea: This type of sleep apnea encompasses a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea, with the airways closed off and breathing suspended. 

“While there are three different kinds of sleep apnea, the most frequently treated at Opelousas General is obstructive sleep apnea,” LaJack says. 

Diagnosis and Treatment

Giving the history of symptoms to a qualified physician is the only way to determine if a patient's experience requires a sleep study, says LaJack. Patients who have undergone initial evaluation spend an evening at the Sleep Disorders Center at Opelousas General Health System, where their sleep is closely monitored. 

“Monitoring involves obtaining information about sleep stages, including heart rate, respiratory effort and oxygen and carbon dioxide levels,” LaJack says. 

The treatment for sleep apnea varies depending on the cause. OSA in adults involves initiation of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. The CPAP machine delivers a pressure into the patient's airway by way of a mask and tubing, acting as a splint to hold the airway open. LaJack says OSA in children is generally treated with tonsillectomy. On occasion, children will need to be treated with CPAP, and with family support, it often is successful. In regards to central sleep apnea, PAP therapy involves an added element of delivering a breath during pauses in breathing. 

Dr. Joseph Y. Bordelon, Medical Director of the Sleep Disorders Center, emphasizes, “No matter the cause of the sleep apnea, the goal of therapy is to maintain an open airway so that the patient can have a more restful night of sleep, experience improved quality of life, and to prevent complications associated with untreated sleep disordered breathing. If we can delay someone's premature trip to the funeral home or nursing home, then we have been successful.”

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