What is obstructive sleep apnea?
I was able to work from home for nine years doing medical transcription. During that time, I had the privilege of working for a local sleep center transcribing sleep studies. I’m no expert on obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), but I sure did learn a lot typing out all those studies. I have friends and family who suffer with sleep apnea, and it’s very scary to think about. My goal is to bring awareness to obstructive sleep apnea and its relationship to obesity. So, what is OSA?
People with OSA have difficulty breathing or can actually stop and start breathing (for 10 seconds or more) while they are sleeping. Yes! You can actually stop breathing for a short period of time. The degree of sleep apnea ranges from mild to severe depending on the number of times you stop breathing in an hour. Severe sleep apnea is defined as stopping breathing more than 30 times in an hour. A sleep study is required to know the degree of sleep apnea. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms include:
- Loud snoring
- Episodes in which you stop breathing during sleep — which would be reported by another person
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Awakening with a dry mouth
- Morning headache
- Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
- Difficulty paying attention while awake
OSA and obesity
According to WebMD “in adults, the most common cause of obstructive sleep apnea is excessive weight and obesity.” During sleep, the tongue and throat muscles become relaxed and these soft tissues can cause the airway to become blocked. More than half the people with obstructive sleep apnea are either overweight or obese. “A 10% weight gain increases the odds of developing moderate or severe obstructive sleep apnea by six times.” (webmd.com)
Other risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea include hereditary factors such as narrowed airway, a thick neck or round head. In adults, smoking, excessive alcohol use or use of sedatives also increases your risk for developing OSA.
If the idea of stopping breathing while you’re sleeping isn’t scary enough, untreated sleep apnea can lead to other serious health problems. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and premature death. Having sleep apnea also puts you at a higher risk for car accidents because of the potential of falling asleep behind the wheel.
“It is estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, with 80 percent of the cases of moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea undiagnosed.” (sleepapnea.org) If you snore that doesn’t mean you have sleep apnea; however, if you snore, it wouldn’t hurt to be tested for sleep apnea. That stat above is alarming: 80% undiagnosed!
Obstructive sleep apnea is an obesity related disease that is treatable. Treatment could help ease your symptoms and reduce your risks of developing other life-threatening conditions. As with other obesity related diseases, you are encouraged to maintain a healthy weight, quit smoking, exercise regularly, and reduce alcohol consumption. If you experience any of the above listed signs and symptoms, please consult with your physician ASAP. OSA is serious and life-threatening. Please seek help! In health – Jennifer