Sleep Apnea: A Not-So-Silent Killer

Sure, snoring is annoying. And it’s been the root of marital tension since the beginning of time. But snoring is more than irritating. It’s a red flag for sleep apnea.

According to the National Institute of Health, sleep apnea is characterized by pauses in breathing or shallow breaths that can last from a few seconds to minutes during sleep. This disturbs the quality of sleep in the short term. In the long term, it can affect overall health.

Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders affect the lives of 50 to 70 million Americans, and lead to a long list of life-impairing and life-threatening side effects:

  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Motor vehicle crashes
  • Depression
  • Memory problems
  • Job impairment
  • Impotency
  • Headaches

The bad news doesn’t stop there. Some 90% of stroke victims suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea are over four times more likely to have a heart attack and twice as likely to die in their sleep.

Sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment typically involves three steps in an integrative healthcare team:

  1. Screen. The first step in diagnosing OSA is having patients fill out a simple questionnaire that will determine where he or she falls on the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. This test can be completed in just a couple of minutes during any visit to your office.
  2. Sleep Study. If a patient scores 4-5 (low risk), 6-10 (high risk), 11 or more (very high risk) on the Epworth questionnaire, he or she should participate in a sleep study to determine whether the cause is obstructive sleep apnea. Home sleep studies allow patients to get a sleep study in the comfort of their own home (as opposed to the inconvenience of spending a night in a traditional sleep center).
  3. Simple Treatment. A simple dental appliance can treat mild to moderate OSA. More severe cases of OSA will need treatment with a CPAP machine that forces air at high enough pressure to keep a patient’s airway open while he or she sleeps.

This three-step process can help people get a better night’s sleep while also reduce their risk for serious diseases associated with sleep apnea. And the advent of the oral sleep appliance provides a welcomed alternative to those patients who are unable to tolerate the CPAP.