Sleep Apnea

Approximately 18 million people in the United States have sleep apnea, a potentially serious sleep disorder that occurs when you actually stop breathing for ten to thirty seconds at a time while you're asleep. These brief spells can occur numerous times a night, causing disruptions in breathing that may awaken you from sound sleep and prevent a good night's rest. During sleep, the person with sleep apnea may frequently snore, pause, and gasp. During the day, the person with sleep apnea is very tired. Some people, however, are unaware they have sleep apnea until a family member tells them of these nightly disturbances.

sleep apnea may be obstructive, central, or mixed. With obstructive sleep apnea, the blockage is caused by the collapse of soft tissue in the rear of the throat during sleep. In central sleep apnea, the airway is open, but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe. Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of the two. Sleep apnea can occur in people of all ages, but your risk rises if you're overweight, over the age of forty, and male.

Essential

Studies show that people who have sleep apnea are especially vulnerable to job performance difficulties and motor vehicle crashes. If you suspect you have sleep apnea, take extra precautions while driving or operating heavy machinery.

Over time, sleep apnea can cause weight gain, fatigue, memory problems, and headaches. Men have trouble with erections, and women may have high blood pressure, memory problems, weight gain, and headaches. Eventually, some people develop depression.

As you know, many of these symptoms are remarkably similar to those you experience with hypothyroidism. And if you don't know that you're snoring at night, you may not even suspect sleep apnea as the cause of your symptoms. But if a thyroid test shows that your thyroid hormone levels are normal, you should ask your doctor for an evaluation for sleep apnea.

The evaluation is called a sleep study, or polysomnography, and usually involves an overnight stay in a sleep clinic. During the night, various monitors and recording equipment will be used to measure your heart rate, eye movements, muscle movements, oral and nasal airflow, and blood-oxygen levels. These measures will determine the severity of your sleep apnea and decide your course of treatment.

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