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Treating Sleep Apnea Can Be a Lifesaver

Sleep AidFeb 03, 09

Obstructive sleep apnea isn’t merely a snoring problem. This serious medical condition strains the cardiovascular system and increases the risk of high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, irregular heart rhythms, stroke and sudden cardiac death.

The February issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter examines this condition, including risk factors and common symptoms and treatments.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles at the back of the throat relax during sleep and obstruct airflow. The airway narrows or even closes at the end of the exhalation. Breathing may stop momentarily.

The most common signs and symptoms include waking up feeling tired, excessive daytime sleepiness, loud snoring, breathing cessation while sleeping, morning headaches and startled awakening with shortness of breath. Dry mouth or sore throat upon awaking and trouble staying asleep also are symptoms.

Obstructive sleep apnea affects people of all ages, but is most common in adults ages 45 to 65, usually men. In women, the risk increases postmenopause.

Risk factors include excess weight; high blood pressure; having a naturally narrowed throat or enlarged tonsils or adenoids; a family history of the condition; smoking; chronic nasal congestion; and using substances that relax throat muscles such as alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers.

No one should ignore obstructive sleep apnea symptoms. The following treatment options can be effective, even lifesaving:

Lifestyle changes—For milder cases of obstructive sleep apnea, lifestyle changes such as losing weight or stopping smoking may be helpful.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines—CPAP devices are generally the preferred treatment for moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea. They deliver air pressure through a mask during sleep. The continuous air pressure keeps the airway open. Adjustable positive airway devices are similar, but the machine automatically adjusts air pressure as needed during sleep.

Surgery—For some patients, surgery is necessary. Several procedures that can be helpful include removal of nasal polyps, straightening of the cartilage between the nostrils or removing enlarged tonsils or adenoids.

Mayo Clinic Health Letter is an eight-page monthly newsletter of reliable, accurate and practical information on today’s health and medical news.

Source: Mayo Clinic

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