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Sleep Apnea- Is it as common as any Lifestyle disease?

Dr. R. Vijai Kumar
Department of Pulmonology,
Yashoda Hospitals, Secunderabad

Increasingly sedentary lifestyles today have ensured increase in the occurrence of diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure. More and more people go about popping pills each day to keep their sugar and blood pressure levels in check, albeit unsuccessfully. What many don’t realize is that despite all that medication, there is a silent, hidden factor behind these diseases, that often goes unnoticed until its too late.

Sleep Apnea is a condition where breathing is interrupted during sleep for several seconds, multiple times during a night. These pauses prevent oxygen from reaching the cells of the body, causing it to age faster. Dr. Vijai Kumar, a Pulmonologist at Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad, says that Sleep Apnea is as much a lifestyle disease as diabetes or high blood pressure. People in their 30s and 40s are the most susceptible since they are usually preoccupied with stress due to work and family. 1 out of 3 patients of diabetes or hypertension are believed to suffer from sleep apnea as well. Therefore chances are that is you are suffering from diabetes or high blood pressure, which is not under control despite regular medication you should suspect for a 3rd factor which is Sleep Apnea.

Sleep deprivation produces inflammatory chemicals called chemokines, which affect an individual’s overall performance, causing loss of memory and concentration, constant fatigue, daytime sleepiness, irritability and accelerated aging.

But these aren’t the real dangers of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is often the main cause behind Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and general fatigue that usually does not get controlled with regular medication. Sleep doctors claim that this condition can lead to a host of problems including kidney failure, heart attack or a night stroke causing paralysis.

Sleep Apnea affects the entire family of the patient. People are so tired and forgetful all the time that their work and social life suffers and constant irritability damages their relationships. Frequent forgetfulness also causes them losses and affects their career prospects. Daytime sleepiness also results in disasters like falling asleep while driving, endangering the lives of several people at once.

Snoring is a good indicator of sleep apnea, as is restless sleep with too much movement, along with chronic sleepiness when not actively busy, like watching TV. A BMI over 25 and a large neck circumference (more than 17” for men and 16” for women) also predisposes a person to sleep apnea. A sleep specialist can confirm sleep apnea by conducting a test called sleep study / Polysomnography. If you or any member in your family is experiencing symptoms that are akin to Sleep Apnea, it is good to visit your nearest sleep physician and get your sleep analyzed. A sleep study or Polysomnography helps detects irregularities in your sleep and can help your doctor prescribe appropriate treatment before it is too late
CPAP is a small bedside device that ensures steady inflow of air through the nose to prevent the airway from collapsing and keeping it open, allowing the patient to breathe freely. The device generally offers significant relief from the first use, as the patient is able to breathe freely without any obstruction. Therefore, his body receives the required amount of oxygen during sleep, and rejuvenates completely. There is no fatigue when the person wakes up the next morning, and he experiences a significant boost in energy levels.

Dr. Vijai Kumar likens the initial resistance to using the CPAP machine to that of wearing spectacles. When you initially find out that you need glasses, you feel shocked. You wonder how you will look, how inconvenient it will be, whether you will go blind eventually, or how long will you have to wear them. However, as time passes, people soon get used to them. The case of the CPAP machine is no different, while it might feel uncomfortable to use the CPAP machine initially, it is easy to get used to. Once patients see the drastic improvement in their quality of life, they get hooked on to it.

Just as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease are no longer the exclusive forte of the elderly, so is sleep apnea a disease that has nothing to do with age. Considering the seriousness of the condition, Dr. Vijai Kumar recommends getting a check up as soon as sleep apnea symptoms are visible, whatever the age of the patient may be. The earlier one begins treatment, the sooner they can improve the quality of their life and of their loved ones as well.