What Is Sleep Apnea?
People with the typical symptoms of sleep apnea, such as loud snoring, obesity, and excessive daytime sleepiness, should be referred to a specialized sleep center that can perform a test called polysomnography. This test records the person's brain waves, heartbeat, and breathing during an entire night.
Once sleep apnea is diagnosed, several treatments are available. Mild cases can frequently be overcome through weight loss or by preventing the person from sleeping on his or her back. Other people may need special devices or surgery to correct the obstruction. People with sleep apnea should never take sedatives or sleeping pills, which can prevent them from awakening enough to breathe.
The frequent awakenings that people with this condition experience leave them continually sleepy. This may lead to personality changes, such as irritability or depression. Sleep apnea also deprives the person of oxygen, which can lead to morning headaches, a loss of interest in sex, or a decline in mental function. The disorder is also linked to high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. People with severe, untreated sleep apnea are two to three times more likely to have automobile accidents than the general population. In some high-risk individuals, the condition may even lead to sudden death from respiratory arrest during sleep.