Sleep Apnea Can Increase Risk of Stroke and Other Serious Injury

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder in which you periodically stop breathing and/or take shallow breaths. Breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes and may occur 30 times or more an hour. Typically, normal breathing then starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound.

For most people, throat muscles help keep your airway stiff and open so air can flow into your lungs. If you have sleep apnea your airway can become partially or fully blocked during sleep causing pauses in breathing for one of several reasons:

  • Your throat muscles and tongue relax more than normal
  • Your tongue and tissue masses in the back of your mouth are large compared to the opening into your windpipe
  • You are overweight, and the extra soft fat tissue can thicken the wall of the windpipe
  • The shape of your head and neck may cause a smaller airway size in the mouth and throat area
  • The aging process limits your brain signals' ability to keep your throat muscles stiff during sleep

Sleep apnea usually is an ongoing condition that disrupts your sleep and is the leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness. Untreated, it can:

  • Increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, and diabetes
  • Increase the risk of, or worsen, heart failure
  • Increase likelihood of irregular heartbeat
  • Increase the chance of having work-related or driving accidents

Unless a family member or bed partner notices signs of sleep apnea, it often goes undiagnosed. There is no blood test and it can’t be detected during a routine office visit, only through a professional sleep study. Consult a medical professional if you experience, or if your partner notices, the following:

  • Snoring loud enough to disturb the sleep of others or yourself
  • Shortness of breath, gasping for air or choking that awakens you from sleep
  • Intermittent pauses in your breathing during sleep
  • Excessive daytime drowsiness, which may cause you to fall asleep while you're working, watching television or even driving

Remember sleep apnea is a chronic condition that requires long-term management. Lifestyle changes, mouthpieces, surgery and breathing devices can successfully treat sleep apnea in many people.

To learn more about respiratory therapy, call 610-776-REHAB (74322) or contact us online.

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