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Are you or your partner plagued by snoring? Do you toss and turn throughout the night? Wake up feeling drained? It could be that you suffer from sleep apnea. This condition often goes undiagnosed because many sleep apnea side effects can be attributed to other conditions, which means these side effects tend not to be discussed by your doctor or the public at large.
Obstructive sleep apnea means a person’s airway is constricted or blocked during sleep creating a small pause in breathing. These intermittent pauses of breath—called apneas—typically last ten to thirty seconds before your brain registers the reduced oxygen levels, realizes what is happening and partially wakes you up to breathe again. Even though this reaction essentially saves your life, it can also flood your body with stress hormones.
Sleep apnea is characterized by loud, aggressive snoring followed by long silences. People who have sleep apnea often experience daily fatigue, dry mouth, and sore throats. Although obesity is not a symptom, it is believed to be a common contributor for sleep apnea.
Daytime sleepiness is linked to more ailments than sleep apnea, including stress. Fatigue can lead to workplace injuries, especially where loss of concentration can have a disastrous effect, such as while operating heavy machinery or falling asleep behind the wheel.
Sleep apnea is also connected to serious health conditions such as irregular heartbeat, cerebrovascular disease, ischemic heart disease, or even heart failure, not to mention Type 2 Diabetes and hypertension.
Most people have felt an occasional irregular heartbeat or “flutter” in the chest. For people with sleep apnea, however, an irregular heartbeat can become a common occurrence, which could indicate issues with how the heart is functioning. The cycle of apnea—briefly stopping breathing only to suddenly startle and breathe again—can have an effect on the heart rate. Because of the lack of oxygen, the heart rate slows then speeds up rapidly, along with higher blood pressure, when breathing starts. Over time, these rapid changes in heartbeat can diminish proper functioning of the heart.
When the blood flow to the brain is limited or cut off completely, it could be the result of conditions that are collectively called cerebrovascular disease. For various reasons, the arteries that send oxygenated blood to the brain get pinched or stop flowing properly. When apnea causes the blood pressure and heart rate to drop, blood flow to the brain is reduced. There is research evidence linking sleep apnea to stroke and other vascular diseases.
Ischemia describes the condition when the flow of blood and oxygen to tissues is restricted. And when the heart muscle doesn’t get adequate oxygen and blood, the condition is called ischemic heart disease. Usually this is caused by problems with the coronary arteries—they become restricted or blocked—and it impacts the heart’s ability to function properly.
There are many causes for Type 2 Diabetes and research is suggesting sleep apnea is one of those causes. The disruptions in the flow of blood and oxygen—not to mention the disrupted sleep patterns—that are associated with sleep apnea can also impact how the body metabolizes.
We are still learning about the dangers of this particular sleep disorder. Also, many of the symptoms of sleep apnea, such as memory loss and poor concentration, are associated with other ailments. Weight and obesity can play a significant role in sleep apnea, which may also help explain why people are misdiagnosed.
Sleep apnea is a serious but very treatable disorder. After being properly diagnosed and assigned a sleep management protocol and treatment plan, people with sleep apnea experience a drastic improvement in the quality of their life.
Sleep apnea should not be taken lightly. If you suspect someone in your family may be suffering from the disorder, it’s important to seek expert medical treatment. A thorough physical exam and, possibly, a sleep test can help confirm the diagnosis.
Dr. Nguyen is a national expert with over a decade of experience in treating sleep apnea. At Houston Sinus and Allergy, snoring and sleep apnea can usually be treated in-office using the newest technology and the latest treatments. Contact the experts by calling (832) 237-7777, or fill out the form at the top of the page to book an assessment to start sleeping better.