Picture these four situations:
- Have you slept in a meeting although the discussion has been far from boring?
- Do you suffer from chest-pains from hitting the steering wheel too often when dozing off while driving? (No, I’m serious!)
- Has your spouse commented that he/she had to rouse you up when you were sleeping at night because he/she noticed you had apparently stopped breathing?
- Has your blood pressure been difficult to control despite being put on many different anti-hypertensive medications?
What do the above conditions have in common? They belong to patients who have presented with various manifestations of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) -breathing pauses during sleep caused by obstruction of the upper breathing passages. To understand better, watch this video:
This relatively newly-recognised situation has in fact been around for ages, but it has been only recently that doctors have accepted this as a separate condition with profound life-threatening complications.
While more common in the obese and middle-aged, others may present with symptoms such as:
- choking while sleeping
- daytime sleepiness (at meetings and at the wheel)
- morning headaches
- poor memory, depression, irritability,sexual impotence
So what’s the big deal?
Well, apart from the fact that OSA causes excessive sleepiness and tiredness and is a health hazard at work or on the road (to others as well!) , it has now been linked to a host of other conditions:
- increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and death
- high blood pressure resistant to most medications
- brain-cell damage due to lack of oxygen
The good thing is something can be done about it, using latest techniques.
For instance, to diagnose this condition, people used to need to stay in hospital’s sleep lab to undergo a sleep study (polysomnogram). Nowadays, portable devices are available (even in Malaysia) where one just needs to wear this device and have the recording in the comfort of your own bed.
In terms of treatment, a whole host of new methods are available apart from the traditional C-PAP mask that is quite inconvenient to use. In fact, one of the most effective forms of treatment is to just lose weight!
Two points are worth noting:
- Inform your surgeon if you are going for surgery as OSA patients can sufffer from prolonged absent breathing periods (apnoea) and may suffer complications following anaesthesia.
- Snoring does not equal OSA. A lot of people snore but they do not stop breathing for more than 10 secs while asleep.This is quite normal.