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What is Sleep Apnea and How Is It Treated?

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Few things can throw off your day like a bad night’s sleep. But when one bad night turns into weeks, or the weeks turn into months, all that interrupted sleep can start to pose serious risks to your health.

One of the most common causes of chronic sleeplessness is sleep apnea. This condition is often characterized by snoring, but not always—some sufferers may only experience it as a persistent restlessness that wakes them repeatedly throughout the night. However, the underlying cause of all this tossing and turning may be much more serious than most people realize.

Here’s more information about the causes and symptoms of sleep apnea, and what can be done to relieve it.

The Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Broadly speaking, sleep apnea can be divided into two main categories: obstructive and central. In obstructive sleep apnea, the muscles surrounding your throat and airways relax during sleep to the point that your airway actually narrows. If the airway still allows a breath to pass through, you may experience a symptom like snoring. In more severe cases, the airway narrows so much that breathing is fully obstructed.

The symptoms of central sleep apnea are similar, but the underlying cause is quite different. In central sleep apnea, the brain fails to send a signal to the body telling it to breathe during sleep. It doesn’t take long before this leads to distress and discomfort, causing you to awaken. Individuals experiencing central sleep apnea may wake up gasping or with shortness of breath, and they may have trouble falling and staying asleep.

Certainly, it’s uncomfortable and scary to have trouble breathing. But the real dangers associated with sleep apnea have to do with the effects of exhaustion. A lack of proper sleep can lead to intense daytime fatigue, high blood pressure, liver problems, diabetes, and a number of other conditions. That’s why it’s important to diagnose properly.

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea

For most people, the first step in diagnosing sleep apnea happens at home. If you (or your partner) have noticed recurring symptoms like those described above, then it may be time to make a proper medical diagnosis.

The Sleep Center at Hancock Regional Hospital can diagnose and treat sleep apnea, regardless of the reason your symptoms occur. We offer comfortable sleep suites during the diagnostic process, as well as tools you can use from the comfort of your own home.

Because the effects of poor sleep are so serious, it’s important to schedule an appointment as soon as possible. You can also help the process by bringing some information and resources to your first appointment, or arranging to have them sent by your doctor. Here’s what we’ll need:

  • Medical records and reports
  • List of current medications
  • Radiology test results (if applicable)
  • Pathology slides and reports (if applicable)
  • Insurance ID cards
  • List of questions for the doctor

We’d also encourage you to bring a friend, relative, partner, or spouse. It’s always helpful to have a second set of ears—especially when you’re feeling exhausted.

Treatments for Sleep Apnea

The good news is that there are multiple effective treatments for sleep apnea, including options like supplemental oxygen, medical appliances, medications, and in some cases, surgery. The specific plan your doctor develops for you will depend on your symptoms and circumstances.

The even better news is once your sleep apnea is successfully treated, you’ll enjoy a more restful sleep and improved overall health. So don’t wait any longer: If you’re experiencing the symptoms of sleep apnea, schedule an appointment with the Sleep Center at Hancock Regional Health.

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