Roaring snores that rumble a room or violent snorts for breath during sleep could be sounds of obstructive sleep apnea. While a true diagnosis is only possible with a sleep study, if left untreated, the sleep disorder could be fatal.
Typical symptoms include shallow breathing or stoppage in breathing while asleep. Sufferers can stop breathing for periods of seconds or minutes — upward of hundreds of times a night in some cases.
Though everyone is susceptible, overweight people are 70 percent more likely to suffer from it, says Dr. Philip Alapat, medical director, Sleep Disorders Center, Harris County Hospital District, and assistant professor, Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine.
As head of the Harris County Hospital District Sleep Disorders Center, a nationally certified facility by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Alapat sees hundreds of overweight and obese patients suffering from the deadly sleep disorder. Annually, the center performs about 1,200 studies to evaluate patients for a variety of sleep disorders, including apnea, insomnia, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy and chronic fatigue syndrome.
“A cardinal recommendation physicians make to overweight or obese patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea is to lose weight. Losing weight usually reduces or eliminates some of the effects and symptoms. We see it all the time, people who lose weight see an improvement, but people who gain weight have a worsening of symptoms,” he says.
Aside from a restless sleep, sufferers increase their risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks and stroke.
Signs of obstructive sleep apnea include:
• Repeatedly tired
• Dosing off during work, driving or other activities
• Lack of concentration when performing activities
• Fatigued even after sleeping the recommended 7-8 hours a day
The sleep disorder is twice as likely among men and is more common among smokers, sufferers of chronic nasal congestion and hypertension. However, being overweight is still the biggest risk factor.
“We know that diagnosing and treating obstructive sleep apnea improves one’s ability to live longer and improves other aspects of a person’s life like managing high blood pressure and diabetes,” Alapat says.
Some treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea include lifestyle changes, corrective mouthpieces, breathing devices or surgery to open up blocked airway passages.
The Harris County Hospital District Sleep Disorders Center is jointly staffed by physicians from Baylor College of Medicine and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
For more information on sleep apnea, visit the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.