Sleep Apnea: Signs, Symptoms, and Potential Causes

During our sleep, our body and mind are meant to reset. This reset period is meant to make us feel physically and mentally rested and ready to tackle the next day’s challenges. For many people, especially those that suffer from sleep conditions, the mind and body aren’t able to reset while sleeping. 

One of the most common sleep disorders in the United States is called sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People who are suffering from untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes even hundreds of times. This means that the brain, as well as the rest of the body, may not get enough vital oxygen.

Sleep apnea is a condition that falls into two categories: the more common obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and the less common central sleep apnea.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

OSA is the more common of the two types of sleep apnea. The condition shows itself as repetitive incidents of complete or partial upper airway blockage during sleep. During an apneic episode, the muscles in the diaphragm and chest are forced to work harder as pressure increases in order to open the blocked upper airway.

Breathing then resumes in a jarring gasp or jerk of the body. These episodes can interfere with deep sleep, reduce the flow of oxygen to vital organs, and cause heart rhythm irregularities.

Central Sleep Apnea

In contrast to OSA, central sleep apnea is not caused by a blockage of the airway. In this type of apnea, the brain fails to signal muscles to breathe due to instability in the respiratory control system of the brain. Central sleep apnea is a result of abnormal functioning of the central nervous system.

There is also a third form of the disorder that is referred to as complex sleep apnea syndrome. This type of syndrome occurs when someone suffers from both obstructive and central sleep apnea.

Who Gets Sleep Apnea?

It has been determined that up to 22 million people in the United States may be suffering from sleep apnea. The American Sleep Apnea Foundation has also found that up to 80 percent of cases of moderate and severe sleep apnea go undiagnosed.

The increase in obesity among Americans is recognized by the United States’ medical community and has been identified as the cause of the rise in the cases of obstructive sleep apnea over the past few decades.

Indiana County Health Rankings has determined that Hendricks County has an obesity rate slightly less than that of Indiana (33%). It has increased from 28% in 2010 to 32% in 2018. Despite being lower than the state average, obesity still remains a significant factor in the development of health issues in Hendricks County. 

There are also many other risk factors that can lead to a person developing sleep apnea.

Problems Even While Awake: Overview of Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea

A person is at an increased risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea if any of the following factors apply:

  • Excess weight: Obesity greatly increases the risk of sleep apnea. Fat deposits around your upper airway can constrict your breathing as you sleep.
  • Neck circumference: Related to obesity, people with thicker necks tend to have narrower airways.
  • A narrowed airway: Genetics may have dictated that you have a naturally narrow airway. Tonsils or adenoids can enlarge and lead to airway blockage, especially in children.
  • Being male: According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, men are two to three times more likely to develop sleep apnea than women. However, women increase their risk if they are obese and the risk also seems to rise post-menopause.
  • Being older: Sleep apnea occurs significantly more frequently in older adults.
  • Family history: As with many disorders, genetics can play a big factor in the development of sleep apnea. If you have a family history of sleep apnea, the likelihood of you having it increases.
  • Use of alcohol, sedatives, or tranquilizers: These substances relax the muscles in your throat, which can lead to increase blockage of airways and worsen obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Smoking: Smokers are up to three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than are people who have never smoked. This is because smoking can increase the amount of inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway.
  • Nasal congestion: If you have difficulty breathing through your nasal passages, whether from an anatomical issue or allergies, you’re more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Prior medical conditions: Congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease are some of the conditions that may increase the risk of obstructive sleep apnea. Polycystic ovary syndrome, hormonal disorders, prior stroke and chronic lung diseases such as asthma also can increase risk.

Risk factors for developing central sleep apnea may include:

  • Being older: Middle-aged and older people are at a high risk of developing sleep apnea
  • Being male: Like OSA, central sleep apnea is more common in males than it is in females.
  • Heart disorders: Having congestive heart failure leads to increased risk.
  • Using opioid pain medications: Opioids medications, especially long-acting types such as methadone, increase the risk of sleep apnea.
  • Stroke: Having had a stroke increases the risk of developing central sleep apnea.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea: How Our Clinic Can Help

In a majority of cases, the symptoms of sleep apnea are not identified by the person suffering themself, it is identified by their significant other that they share a bed or room with. One of the major dangers of sleep apnea is that the person may have no idea that they are experiencing it while they are sleeping. They may wake up with a morning headache but have no idea that they are suffering from a condition that may have far more dire consequences. 

Because of this, it is important to be aware of the warning signs. It could help you and your partner avoid serious health consequences in the future.

The most common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
  • Restlessness during sleep with frequent nighttime awakenings
  • Sudden awakenings with loud gasping or choking
  • Dry mouth or sore throat upon awakening
  • Cognitive impairment during the day, such as difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, and irritability
  • Mood disturbances such as depression or anxiety
  • Night sweats
  • Frequent nighttime urination
  • Sexual dysfunction due to increased blood pressure or hypertension
  • Frequent headaches

If any of these symptoms are present in yourself or a loved one, seeking medical help now can help you avoid, or even reverse, serious health problems in the future. 

Hope Healthcare is offering various services in the office and as drive-up services. If you’re struggling to find and afford healthcare, we’re here to help. Take advantage of programs today to start feeling better without overpaying.

Give Hope Healthcare a call at 317-272-0708 for more information or to book an appointment today. If we do not answer, please leave a message, and we will call you back.

Getting Better Sleep: FAQ’s

What is the main cause of sleep apnea?

There are many causes of sleep apnea including, genetics, age, weight, physical condition, and sleep position.

Does sleep apnea happen every night?

Yes, most people with sleep apnea experience symptoms on a nightly basis, with the more extreme cases having breathing disruptions as many as 400 times a night.

How do you cure sleep apnea?

In addition to lifestyle changes, most people with sleep apnea will seek treatment that helps keep the airway open during sleep. (CPAP) therapy is currently the most effective treatment for mild to severe sleep apnea patients.