The Sleeping Enemy
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The Sleeping Enemy

Everyday millions of people from all around the globe die from hidden diseases that were never detected, or medically treated. “Why does this happen? How does this happen? What can we do to stop this? These are just some of the questions we will try to answer. We will keep our focus on one specific type of sleeping disorder whose symptoms are slight and seemingly normal, for most the silent killer is Sleep Apnea. This condition can consequently be a fatal breathing disorder that attacks during sleep and it obstructs the airways to the lungs. The obstruction can occur five to thirty times an hour and last anywhere from a few seconds to a quarter of a minute in duration. Snoring is very common as, a result of respiratory effort and a physical blockage to the air-intake. There are three common types of sleep apnea: Central, Obstructive, or Mixed and Complex sleep apnea. Regardless of which of the previous forms the afflicted has the outcome will be sleep deprivation.

In Central sleep apnea, or Cheyenne – Stokes respiration, the breathing centers in the brain are imbalanced and disturbed. The blood levels of carbon dioxide and the feedback mechanism that controls them do not react quickly enough to maintain an even respiration. For a normal individual at rest, breathing is steady and regular plus oxygen levels remain constant. In Central Sleep Apnea the basic breathing function controlled by the brain malfunctions and fails to signal to inhale, the individual will miss several cycles of breathing during this disruption. Oxygen and carbon dioxide receptors in the blood stream send impulses to the brain that signal the Diaphragm to take a breath, during Central Sleep Apnea this is extremely absent (Omnigraphics).

Mixed Apnea and Complex Sleep Apnea, mixed Apnea is a combination of two or more of the conditions derived into one united condition. The basic symptoms and causes are the same only much more severe. The patient with mixed apnea will be much more likely to develop other life threatening diseases. Complex Sleep Apnea is a much milder form of the condition.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a condition that is far more severe than the other two types. Breathing pauses many times during sleep because the airway has become narrowed, blocked, or floppy. A pause in breathing is known as an Apnea episode. Patients of the disorder can go on for multiple years without ever knowing that they have it. The symptoms may mimic that of a sleepless night, hence a grumpy mind state, a body having minimal energy, and a decreased awareness. “Because of daytime sleepiness people with sleep apnea have an increased risk of: Motor vehicle accidents from driving while sleepy – Industrial accidents from falling asleep on the job.” (A.D.A.M.).

This mimicry is why so many people can go un-diagnosed from this sometimes-fatal condition. The patient’s brain is often affected because of the lack of oxygen caused by sleep deprivation. A development in depression and high anxiety can exist due to the strong disruption of the Cognitive state: “Sleep Apnea causes disrupted breathing in the middle of the night for more than 12 million Americans; Fatigue, High blood pressure, and weight gain are some of its more familiar symptoms” (Nieman and Oconnor). Sleep apnea affects males more than female’s. Reggie White a former pro football great played for the Green Bay Packers developed sleep apnea. On December 26, 2004, Reggie White was rushed to the hospital with severe cardiac arrhythmia where he was pronounced dead. Doctors maintained that obstructed sleep apnea might have contributed to his death.

According to a study of 1,500 Spanish snorers who underwent a sleep study at a local hospital, Thirty-two percent of those who were untreated had either suffered a heart attack, or had bypass surgery. (Harvard) Another study found that 85% of elderly woman who suffered from the disease had a greater chance of Cognitive Impairment, better known as dementia.

In most cases of Obstructive Sleep Apnea, the breathing stops for about thirty seconds and the person gives a loud snort suddenly awakening. These episodes can continue for many years without any treatment and sometimes the result can be death: “A 2009 study finds that Sleep Apnea victims are 50% more likely to die of a variety of causes.” (Staff).

These facts are very alarming considering that the only way we might find out about this potential problem is when our partner tells us, that we snore too much. By the time we finally become aware of this ailment, how many years have passed by without treatment? Education and awareness is exactly what is needed, if we want to survive this silent and deadly enemy. Children are also at risk of developing the disease later on in life if they develop large tonsils and adenoids the signs and symptoms of this quiet disorder are very real and painful: Morning headaches, memory loss, depression, and personality changes.

Many Doctors today use a Polyssomnogram, which evaluates a patient’s sleep patterns. The evaluation is done in an overnight sleep study where heart rhythms, lung functioning, blood oxygen levels, etc. are tested. This process is very necessary in determining whether, or not sleep correlates to any current medical problems that one might currently have.

“The propensity to develop sleep apnea increases as people mature and in postmenopausal women when they lose estrogen, which served as a protective factor against sleep apnea” (Graci and Sexton-Radek).We all need to be aware of our diet, lifestyle, habits, and addictions, or anything that can put us at great risk for developing sleep apnea.

I truly believe that there is not enough media attention about the illness for the warning signs to cement into people’s minds. Educating on prevention , detection, and treatment is essential for our society to be aware of the dangers in sleep apnea. If an Individual meets the critera for a diagnosis of Obstructive Sleep Apnea, the key standard is (CPAP) continuous positive airway pressure: A CPAP mask is placed over the mouth and nose, which gently pushes humidified warm air to the back of the throat, consequently keeping the airway open and clear (Graci and Sexton-Radek). There are many different masks available depending upon what kind the sleep specialist recommends. If you have just a slight case of sleep apnea, your Doctor may suggest losing weight if necessary and/or changing certain medications that make you drousy. “The weight gain that accompanies pregnancy can affect a woman’s breathing patterns during sleep, particularly during the third trimester” (A.S.A.A.). Many women gain eccessive amounts of weight during their pregnancy and therefore increase the likely-hood of sleep apnea.

Most treatments begin with behavior and lifestyle therapy. The remedy may involve changing the patient’s lifestyle such as: avoiding alcohol, quitting smoking, and sleeping with the upper body elevated. Sleeping on one’s side can prevent the tongue and palate from falling to one side and blocking off the airway. A dental appliance can also be used to keep the tongue and oversized tissue from upstructing breathing. Nightime oxygen therapy has been very successful in many cases of sleep apnea. Oxygen therapy consists of a CPAP machine, a mask is placed over the patient’s mouth and nose. Continueous air is pumped through the mask and the airway preventing it’s collapse (Omnigraphics).

In conclusion: Sleep Apnea is a very dangerous and deadly condition that will cause many problems, both mentally and physically. There are millions of people all around the globe who do not even know they have it. Some will take a long time to be diagnosed, while others may never know and die. We as a society need to take better care of our health in general. It is imperitive to have a physical exam at least once every six months and never be afraid to ask our Physician questions. If you have any persistant mental, or physical problems do not hesitate in seeking medical attention. One of the most important keys to our very existence on this planet is information, we must seek it out and save our lives.


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