Sleep apnea is a serious, common condition which is treatable locally

CROWLEY - Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder characterized by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep.

First described in 1965 and still relatively unknown, sleep apnea is believed to affect at least one out of every 200 Americans, 70 to 90 percent of them men, mostly middle-aged and usually overweight. But the condition can afflict both men or women at any age or size.

The Greek word, apnea, means “want of breath.”

Dr. Matthew Abraham, with Our Lady of Lourdes, sees patients at the Sleep Disorders center in Crowley.

“Obstructive sleep apnea can be a significant disorder,” said Dr. Abraham. “The condition can lead to complications such as hypertension and heart disease when left untreated.”

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when air can’t flow into or out of a person’s nose or mouth.

Central sleep apnea (CSA) occurs when the brain fails to send the appropriate signals to the breathing muscles to initiate respirations. In CSA, both oral breathing and throat and abdominal breathing efforts are simultaneously interrupted. In a third type of apnea, mixed apnea, a brief period of central apnea is followed by a longer period of obstructive apnea.

In a given night, the number of involuntary breathing pauses can be more than 60 per hour. Sleep apnea can be described as choking sounds (not everyone who snores has this condition). The frequent interruptions of deep sleep leads to daytime sleepiness and other symptoms.

Although, snoring is the most common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition that literally causes you to stop breathing a multitude of times all night long.

This happens when your jaw, throat and tongue muscles relax, obstructing your airway. You snore as air struggles to get in. OSA has been linked to heart attack, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, depression and diabetes.

Not only all that, but you just can’t get a good night’s sleep. You’re tired all day. You feel groggy and crabby. It is also hard to stay awake in the afternoon.

A disturbed sleeping pattern can lead to illness, scientists say.

Researchers have found that the circadian clock - the genetic mechanism which regulates our sleep - controls the level of a gene vital to our immune system.

“Treatment can provide a wide array of benefits,” said Dr. Abraham. “After treatment, patients experience alertness in the daytime, controlled blood pressure and improved concentration.”

Scientists from Yale University linked the gene TLR-9 to the cycle in mice. When the gene was at its most active, it was able to respond best to bacteria and viruses and the mice responded better to infection and vaccinations.

In theory, the principles should also apply for the same gene in humans.

Disruptions to the cycle can make us more susceptible to illness, reports the journal, “Immunity.”

People with this disorder actually may stop breathing while asleep-even hundreds of times, without being aware of the problem. During an apnea attack, the snorer may seem to gasp for breath, and the oxygen level in the blood may become low. In severe cases, a sleep apnea victim may actually spend more time without breathing than actually breathing.

The snoring that results is produced when the upper rear of the mouth (the soft palate and the cone-shaped tissue, the uvula, that descends from it) relaxes and vibrates as air passes in and out. This sets up an air current between the palate and the base of the tongue, resulting in snoring.

Typically, the individual will wake up, snort or grunt while gasping for air, then immediately fall back to sleep, only to repeat the cycle throughout each night of attempting slumber.

“If there is enough obstruction, the patient will lose oxygen and this generates a response,” said Dr. Abraham. “They will continually wake up as many as 10-20 times per hour which leads to exhaustion.”

Sleep apnea can be recognized by a number of symptoms. As mentioned, loud and intermittent snoring is one warning signal. The person who has sleep apnea may experience a choking sensation, early morning headaches or extreme daytime sleepiness as well.

“This is a very common disorder which is often missed,” said Dr. Abraham. “And the dangers of the diagnosis have been underestimated.”

Since sleeping pills may be harmful for people with sleep apnea, they should not be taken if the condition is suspected.

Many people with such conditions as obesity, deviated nasal septum, polyps, enlarged tonsils, large adenoids or a host of other problems may be particularly likely to develop sleep apnea. Doctors can reliably diagnose the disorder only by monitoring oxygen intake, breathing and other physical functions while the patient is sleeping.

In mild cases, sleep apnea often responds to medication. Or, in the case of overweight middle-aged males, losing weight may lessen the problem.

“The gold standard, known as continuous positive air pressure, involves the use of wearing a mask attached to a machine (referred to as CPAP) while the person sleeps,” said Dr. Abraham. “The CPAP blows air into a hose during the night, opening the air flow and facilitating breathing.”

“There’s a need to look at sleep on the same level of importance as diet and exercise,” says Carl Hunt, M.D., director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, part of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. “All three are equally important for good health.”

Our Lady of Lourdes sleep disorders center is approaching its fifth year in Crowley. In addition to Dr. Abraham, the staff consists of Nancy Green, LPN; Debbie Perry, reimbursement specialist; George Murray, sleep technician; Matthew Fisher, biomedical technician; and Christine Soileau, clinical director.

The sleep disorders center is located at 1325 Wright Avenue, Tower One Building, suite one in Crowley behind the American Legion Hospital. They can be reached at (337) 783-4448.

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