snoring

The Serious Side Effects of Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) afflicts more than 22 million adults in the United States. The American Sleep Apnea Association estimates that, of the Americans who suffer from moderate to severe OSA, as many as 80 percent are undiagnosed and untreated. Increasingly, doctors are viewing sleep disorders like OSA as a major public health concern.

When people suffer from OSA, their sleep is anything but restful. With OSA, your upper airway becomes narrowed or blocked, which causes you to briefly but repeatedly stop breathing throughout the night. The brain, sensing a drop in oxygen, then causes you to snort or gasp for breath. “Loud, chronic snoring can be a sign of OSA, so your spouse or bed partner is usually the first person to know there’s a problem,” explains Craig Viti, MD, of Pulmonary Consultants-UPMC.

A Hidden Health Hazard

Daytime fatigue is a common symptom of OSA. Until recently, the medical community has been most concerned about the effects of sleep apnea on driving. Research has shown that people with OSA are up to five times more likely than normal sleepers to have traffic accidents. That statistic has drawn national attention, resulting in important legislation at both the state and federal level to curb drowsy driving.

“Just as importantly, numerous cardiovascular health problems — such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke — as well as type 2 diabetes and depression — have recently been linked to OSA,” says Dr Viti.

Research findings published in the journal Anesthesiology also report that patients with unreported sleep apnea are twice as likely to have surgery-related respiratory complications. As a result, there’s been a growing effort among anesthesiologists and surgeons to identify and treat sleep apnea before surgery to minimize complications.

Getting Help for OSA

While sleep apnea is surprisingly common, many cases go undiagnosed. “Your doctor can’t detect if you have sleep apnea during a routine visit,” explains. Dr. Viti. “You need to report symptoms of OSA to your doctor, who will order a sleep study or polysomnography.”

Until recently, sleep studies were only conducted in sleep study laboratories. Cost and access kept many people from getting tested. “But smaller, portable monitors are now available for home testing that provide satisfactory data to secure a diagnosis in many patients suspected of having OSA,” reports Dr. Viti. Most patients find a home-based study to be less cumbersome, more comfortable and convenient, and less costly,” he adds.

Pulmonary Consultants-UPMC offers a comprehensive portable sleep program directed by board-certified sleep physicians. Patients undergo a complete evaluation before and after a portable study is done. If your study results are positive for OSA, Pulmonary Consultants-UPMC has the expertise to thoroughly review all therapeutic options with you. “Our highly trained staff works with our patients in all aspects of their care and education,” says Dr. Viti.

Because home sleep tests aren’t for everyone, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has established specific criteria for eligibility. “Identifying appropriate patients for portable home-based sleep evaluation versus a formal in-lab study is also an important component of our program. We collaborate closely with the patient’s referring physician and pay close attention to other related medical issues.”

Sleep Apnea Self Test

For More Information

To learn more, visit the UPMC Sleep Medicine Center or call 412-692-2880 to schedule an appointment.