Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea (SA) is a common sleep disorder where people experience multiple interruptions in breathing when they sleep. It can last up to 20 seconds or longer and can occur up to 30 times or more in an hour. According to National Sleep Foundation, apnea is when breathing pauses last for up to 10 seconds or more. Symptoms include loud snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, waking up with a choking or gasping sensation, and restless sleep.
Untreated sleep apnea can result in poor quality of sleep, low blood oxygen levels, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart failure, heart attacks, cardiomyopathy (a heart disease that makes it more difficult for your heart to pump blood to your body), and other heart problems. It goes on to lead to low productivity at home, school, work, and society at large.
Types of Sleep Apnea
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
This is the most common type of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the upper airway at the back of the throat become partially or completely blocked repeatedly during sleep. Usually, it is because the muscles and soft tissues in the throat, the tonsils, adenoids, and tongue relax during sleep. It is frequently seen in people who are overweight or obese, have large necks, have structural abnormalities, or are older. Examples of structural abnormalities include nasal obstruction, a low soft palate, tonsillar hypertrophy (enlarged tonsils), and jaw problems like micrognathia (small jaw) with an overbite or jaw malalignment.
When you stop breathing, the diaphragm and chest muscles work to build pressure within the airway and push it open. The brain notes that your oxygen levels are low and then signals for the body to wake. The person resumes breathing with a gasp, snort, cough, or a body jerk. These repeated interruptions can prevent restful sleep, lower blood oxygen levels and supply to vital body organs, and cause arrhythmias.
Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)
This results in slow and shallow breathing and disrupts sleep. It occurs commonly in people with stroke, brain infection, heart failure, or those who use certain types of drugs including opioids or benzodiazepines.
Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome
Sleep Apnea Signs and Symptoms
Sleep apnea must be diagnosed by a sleep physician. We recommend that you talk to our dentist, as well as your physician, if you suffer from the symptoms of sleep apnea. Common signs of sleep apnea include:
- Frequent loud snoring
- Repeated stopping and starting of breathing during sleep
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia), even after a full night’s sleep
- Personality changes and irritability
- Mood swings
- Waking up with a very dry or sore throat
- Frequent morning migraine headaches
- Restlessness during sleep
- Frequent nighttime awakenings
- Frequent nighttime urination
- Waking up with a gasp or body jerk from deep sleep
- Trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep (insomnia)
- Night sweats
- Difficulty paying attention and poor memory
- Reduced sex drive and/or sexual dysfunction
- Bruxism or teeth grinding
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What Causes Sleep Apnea
Obesity is a common cause of SA and is responsible for up to 40-60% of sleep apnea cases in adults. Being overweight or weight means you have higher amounts of fat in and around your neck that can reduce or completely block the upper airway, especially when you sleep or lie down. Hence, it is an major risk factor for OS. Studies show that a 10% increase in weight increases one’s risk for obstructive sleep apnea by six.
Gender and Age
While sleep apnea affects all ages of both sexes, it is prevalent is men and in older people. Being male and aging increases one’s risk of developing sleep apnea.
According to experts, fat deposits increase in our neck region as we age, thus increasing the risk for obstructive sleep apnea. Also, men are two to three times more likely to develop sleep apnea than women.
Enlarged Adenoids and Tonsils
Examples of congenital conditions include cleft lip, cleft palate, congenital hypoventilation syndrome, Down syndrome, and so on. These conditions are marked by a relatively smaller lower jaw compared to the upper jaw and collapsible palate which can cause obstructive sleep apnea.
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
The released adrenaline constricts or narrows your blood vessels to increase the pressure and hence, the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart and the brain. Overtime, this levels of adrenaline can remain constantly high in the blood even when you are breathing fine, leading to hypertension.
On the other hand, inflammation from sleep apnea can cause diabetes. Undiagnosed and untreated sleep apnea can worsen diabetes and make it harder to manage.
This is an endocrine disorder. When you have hypothyroidism, your thyroid produces low amounts of thyroid hormones. Underactive thyroid can result into many other problems. First, it affects the respiratory control center of the brain, including the nerves and the muscles needed for effective breathing. Secondly, it causes obesity, which is a primary risk factor of obstructive sleep apnea.
This is another endocrine disorder where levels of growth hormone in a person are abnormally high. This condition brings about the following:
- enlarged facial features
- enlarged throat muscles
- large or big tongues
These features can potentially block the upper airway, making acromegaly a risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
An endocrine condition that affects the ovaries and disrupts normal ovulation in women. PCOS has been found to cause weight gain and obesity, which are risk factors to develop obstructive sleep apnea.
Heart and Kidney Failure
As in heart failure, obstructive sleep apnea occurs when someone has kidney failure. Kidney failure can result in fluid accumulation within spaces in the lungs and in the neck or airway. This makes kidney failure a potential cause and risk factor of obstructive sleep apnea.
History of Stroke
Neurologic and Neuromuscular Conditions
This is because they can affect the respiratory center of the brain, and increase the risk for central sleep apnea.
These all can affect breathing and the how well the brain sends proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. Studies state smokers are three times more likely to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea than those who do not smoke.
When to See a Doctor
Sleep apnea may also be indicative of an underlying health problem. Hence, you should see a doctor when you, bed partner, family members, and/or colleagues at work notice any worrisome symptoms.
Your doctor will help provide medical advice and recommend the best treatment. You may be asked to undergo an overnight sleep study at home or in a sleep laboratory.
Complications of Untreated Sleep Apnea
Undiagnosed sleep apnea has potentially life-altering complications. When left untreated or poorly managed, severe sleep apnea could result in sleep deprivation. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea affects a person’s mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing, hence, bringing out serious health complications. These include:
- Daytime fatigue
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Diabetes including type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes
- High cholesterol levels
- Chronic kidney disease
- Heart disease and disorders like cardiomyopathy, heart attack, heart failure, and atherosclerosis
- Cancers, including skin, pancreatic, and renal cancers
- Liver problems
- Cognitive and behavioral disorders such as problems in paying attention, concentration, memory, motor skills, etc.
- Learning disabilities in children
- Glucose intolerance
- Eye conditions like dry eye, glaucoma, and/or keratoconus
- Risk of having a baby weighing less than 2.5kg (5 lbs. 8 oz.)
- Postoperative complications
- Atrial fibrillation