According to the National Institutes of Health, about 15 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with sleep apnea. There are several types of this common disorder, but they all have the same hallmark symptom: your breathing stops for 10 seconds or longer before you wake up enough to breathe again, often with a loud gasp. This can happen hundreds of times a night. Sleep apnea increases your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and other serious conditions.
By far the most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. It occurs when the soft tissues in the back of your throat and tongue relax and sag during sleep, blocking your airway. With central sleep apnea, breathing is temporarily interrupted when the brain stops sending signals to the muscles that control breathing. Some people have a combination of these two, known as complex sleep apnea.
While both men and women of all ages can develop any type of sleep apnea, it’s much more common in men. For example, obstructive sleep apnea affects about 24 percent of men compared with only 9 percent of women. However, sleep apnea rates go up in women after menopause, when it’s more severe. The sleep experts at El Camino Health’s Sleep Disorders Program understand these issues and work closely with women’s health and men’s health experts to ensure the very best care.
Since being overweight can lead to sleep apnea, you can lower your risk by maintaining a healthy weight. That’s especially important for men, who are at an increased risk of developing this condition. Both men and women are at increased risk for sleep apnea if they’re over age 65 or have:
- Close relatives with this disorder.
- Large tonsils or adenoids.
- A jaw disorder that affects the throat.
It’s particularly important for people with these additional risk factors to avoid gaining too much weight. And, while central sleep apnea usually results from an underlying condition — such as heart failure, Parkinson’s disease or previous stroke — maintaining a healthy weight can also help lower the sleep apnea risk for people with these conditions.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
People with sleep apnea often snore loudly. This, along with the gasping sounds during apnea episodes, can be disturbing to your sleep partner. In fact, complaints from sleep partners are often the first indication of the disorder.
The episodes of not breathing, or apnea, disrupt your sleep and reduce the oxygen in your blood. As a result, you may have:
- Morning headaches.
- Excessive daytime sleepiness.
- Trouble concentrating during the day.
- A dry mouth or sore throat in the morning.
If you have symptoms of sleep apnea, your doctor will review your medical history and do a physical exam. At El Camino Health, our sleep specialists use sleep studies (polysomnography), to diagnose your condition and plan treatment.
Some people with sleep apnea are able to sleep better after losing weight or learning to sleep on their side. When further treatment is necessary, El Camino Health offers a wide range of treatment options, including continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), an oral appliance or surgery.
If your sleep apnea results from another condition, as it usually does with central sleep apnea, therapy for that condition may help relieve your symptoms. Sleep experts work with specialists in other fields to give you comprehensive, integrated care. No matter what type of sleep apnea you have, we develop a personalized treatment program to minimize or eliminate symptoms and help you achieve a good night’s sleep.