What is Sleep Apnea?
When one falls asleep their airway can be partially obstructed which can result in repeated drops in oxygen and slowing or even stopping of breathing with adverse effects both on wakefulness and eventually adverse effects on the heart. Unless treated this under-recognized condition can provoke heart rhythm disturbances such as atrial fibrillation, worsen hypertension, cause pulmonary hypertension or even provoke life threatening heart rhythms in patients with pre-existent heart disease.
When do we suspect sleep apnea?
Although obesity is commonly associated with sleep apnea, 20-30% of patients with sleep apnea are not obese. Sleep apnea is suspected in patients who snore, are frequently tired during the day due to disrupted night-time sleep or who have common cardiac conditions like atrial fibrillation, pulmonary hypertension or significant hypertension without other obvious explanations.
Role of a sleep study
Traditionally the only way to diagnose sleep apnea was to sleep in an overnight sleep center where oxygen sensors, electrodes and brain wave monitoring is performed and monitored by specialized technicians. Though for some this is a necessary step to diagnose and treat sleep apnea, now with home sleep monitors, much of that same information can be obtained while wearing a portable sleep monitor at home that can be self-applied after instructions from one of our technicians. We can now instruct patients on use of a home monitor so they can wear the device overnight in their own bed and bring it back to the office the following day. Valuable information on breathing pattern and oxygen levels obtained while a person is sleeping is then uploaded by computer where tests are professionally read by a pulmonary sleep specialist.
What happens with the information from a home sleep study?
The information from the study is then professionally analyzed by a sleep specialist with whom we partner and the patient is notified as to whether they have sleep apnea and if so whether it is mild, moderate or severe? If a patient has sleep apnea, he will get an appointment with a specialist so treatment options can be discussed.
How is sleep apnea treated if discovered?
The treatment for sleep apnea is a device called CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). These devices in the past were cumbersome and noisy and were not popular with patients, but as technology has improved are now fitted as simply a nasal pillow or nose and mouth mask that are much easier to wear and much less disruptive to proper sleeping. They are silent. The sleep specialist will custom fit a device that is most appropriate to undisturbed sleep and this will help properly treat this serious condition with both improved cardiovascular health and improved quality sleep and wakefulness.