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Sleep Apnea – Treat the Underlying Condition

Dr. Sandeep Raj Bharma
Pulmonologist, Hyderabad

Many people equate sleep apnea with snoring, thinking that the two are the same. However, snoring is just a symptom of sleep apnea, which is a much more dangerous disease, even proving fatal in some cases. A person is said to have Obstructive Sleep Apnea if his sleep is interrupted by a cessation in breathing, followed by a decrease in the oxygen level in the body. This results in a phenomenon known as sympathetic activity where the heart rate and blood pressure fluctuate, leading to other diseases or worsening pre-existing conditions.

While sleep apnea is a problem in itself, it is also closely associated with several other lifestyle diseases. 1 out of 3 people with diabetes or hypertension are found to have sleep apnea as well. Dr. Sandeep Raj Bharma, a prominent Pulmonologist from Hyderabad, says that variability in heart rate and blood pressure can make a person susceptible to cardiac diseases. People with uncontrolled diabetes or hypertension are found to be more prone to sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea makes it harder for people to keep their diabetes or hypertension under control, usually requiring them to take more than 3 medications for their blood pressure as well as increasing the levels of their insulin treatments. Uncontrolled diabetes can also lead to a host of complications like kidney trouble, foot problems and more. When sleep apnea is left untreated, it can also lead to stroke or cancer.

Sleep Apnea is not too difficult to spot, with the most prominent symptom being snoring. In addition to this, another tell-tale sign of sleep apnea is excessive daytime sleepiness, with the person falling asleep during work or even while driving. Interrupted sleep also leads to frequent bathroom visits and waking up with a headache every morning. The overall lack of sleep and rest causes irritability and people find it difficult to focus on any task.

The symptoms of sleep apnea make it obvious that it is a condition that affects one's life on a daily basis. The inability to stay awake during meetings and such combined with poor concentration makes people perform badly at work, affecting their career prospects and income.

At home, the stress of doing badly at work coupled with a general irritability due to lack of sleep takes its toll, and makes the person snappy and moody. This behaviour affects his family life, while his snoring and frequent night awakenings affects his relationship with his spouse. Dr. Bharma says that some people become so miserable that they end up in depression, not realizing that the problem actually lies with their sleep patterns.

Dr. Sandeep Bharma strongly advises against self medication and suggests consulting specialist for any kind of treatment. The best proven way to treat sleep apnea is the CPAP, a tissue box sized machine with a nasal mask that the patient wears when going to bed. Those with an initial resistance wonder if losing weight can help with the sleep apnea. However, while losing weight is a first line of treatment and can show a marginal improvement in their diabetes and hypertension, it is still not a complete cure for sleep apnea, which is the underlying condition to be treated.

Patients who use the CPAP for 3-6 months report feeling better, and their various medical parameters show good improvement. Their diabetes and hypertension are much better controlled and the number of their medications comes down significantly. They are also at a much lower risk of stroke or cardiac disease. With consistent use of the CPAP, along with frequent checkups and reviews, sleep apnea patients find that their quality of life improves by leaps and bounds and they have never been so happy with their work and family.