Vol. 19 • Issue 3
• Page 14
If your significant other has had it with your loud snoring, daytime napping, and frequent irritability, you might want to visit your doctor before you visit a couples' therapist. These problems could be signs of a health condition called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
While it's not the only sleep disorder, OSA is one of the most common - it's estimated to affect more than 12 million Americans. If it's not treated, it can increase your risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and other health problems. Even though OSA is more common in men and those who are overweight, it can affect people of any age, size, gender, or ethnicity.
A person with untreated OSA stops breathing or gasps for a few seconds or minutes while sleeping. These interruptions could happen five to 30 times an hour. A blocked or narrow airway is usually the cause. Frequent, loud snoring is one of the most common signs. Other symptoms include morning headaches, problems concentrating or remembering things, feeling irritable or depressed, and falling asleep during the day.
The American Sleep Apnea Association has developed a short quiz to determine if you may be at a higher risk for OSA. You can find it at www.sleepapnea.org/resources/pubs/snorescore.html. Your significant other may help to answer the questions. If any of your answers is "yes," discuss your symptoms with your physician. He'll also consider your physical exam and medical history before referring you to a specialist to get a sleep study. This testing, called polysomnography (PSG), will record information about your sleep to identify OSA.
A PSG is the most common and accurate test for diagnosing OSA. Sensors attached to your scalp, face, chest, and limbs will gather data about your breathing, heart rate, and movement during sleep stages. For many years, you could only be tested for OSA in a sleep lab or center, which usually required an overnight stay.
New home sleep testing systems use wireless technology that can detect OSA but gather less information than a full PSG. These have been proven to work well in certain patients - those who have more obvious, straightforward cases of OSA without significant health problems.
A sleep technologist will hook up the sensors either in your home or at a sleep facility. The typical setup includes a nasal cannula, finger pulse oximeter, abdominal belt, and a single-lead electrocardiogram. Some home sleep testing systems are connected to a web-based video camera so the technologist can view live data and images of the study from any computer using secure software. This also allows the technologist to help troubleshoot any difficulties that may occur during the night, such as a loose electrode.
The sleep facility's staff will help you decide which testing method will work best for you, and they'll meet with you afterward to discuss the results. If you are diagnosed with OSA, they also will help you to choose the best treatment option to improve your sleep and health. Soon your new energy will put your family and friends' complaints to bed.
Adapted from The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Your doctor or therapist has given you this patient education handout to further explain or remind you about an issue related to your health. It is a general guide only. If you have
specific questions, discuss them with your doctor or therapist.