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1:04 PM Tue, Nov. 20th

Sleep apnea could have deadly consequences

JC AMBERLYN/Miner<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Mark Hopkins, the clinical supervisor for KRMC’s Sleep Disorders Center, shows off a sleep-lab room where sleep apnea can be diagnosed.

JC AMBERLYN/Miner<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Mark Hopkins, the clinical supervisor for KRMC’s Sleep Disorders Center, shows off a sleep-lab room where sleep apnea can be diagnosed.

KINGMAN - Snoring can be more than just a mere annoyance, it can be a serious health problem. According to 2005 poll by the National Sleep Foundation, approximately 90 million people in the U.S. snore.

According to Bob Walton, the branch manager for Breathing Disorder Services in Kingman, loud snoring is one of the leading sign of obstructive sleep apnea. Other signs include excessive daytime sleepiness, poor concentration, short-term memory problems, depression, irritability, falling asleep during the day, waking up at night from a dead sleep gasping, choking, snorting or actually ceasing to breath while sleeping.

Sleep apnea can mean more than just a missed night's sleep. The disease is linked to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, memory problems, weight gain, impotency, headaches, diabetes, stroke and more.

Walton explained that as people sleep the muscles of the soft palate and tongue hold open the airway. In people who snore, the palate may relax slightly while they sleep, blocking part of the airway and causing the palate to vibrate.

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused when the palate temporarily blocks a person's airway while they are sleeping. A person with sleep apnea can actually stop breathing for 10 seconds or more during one of these episodes, Walton said. This can happen several times a night for some people.

The net effect of sleep apnea is a decrease in the amount of oxygen in the blood and stress on the heart and lungs as the body labors to breath before jolting the person awake.

The poor quality of sleep caused by sleep apnea messes with the body's circadian rhythm preventing the body from making necessary repairs and disrupting hormone balances such as insulin levels in the blood, leading to pre-diabetes or diabetes in some people, said Dr. Robert Matheny, a Kingman pulmonologist.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, nearly 50 percent of the patients with Type 2 Diabetes also suffer from sleep apnea.

It can also mess with the hormones that make you feel full after eating a meal, causing a person to actually crave carbohydrates when they wake up in the morning, Matheny said. A large number of people who are overweight or obese suffer from sleep apnea, he said.

Sleep apnea can also affect a patient's partner. According to information from BDS, a person bothered by their partner's snoring loses an average of 49 minutes of sleep a night.

The best way to diagnose sleep apnea is to have a doctor prescribe a sleep study, Matheny said.

Mark Hopkins, the clinical supervisor for Kingman Regional Medical Center's Sleep Disorders Center, said the four-bed sleep lab is full nearly every night they are open, six nights a week.

Patients come in to the sleep lab around 5 or 6 p.m. and are wired with a number of electrodes that measure brain activity, breathing, blood oxygen, blood pressure and more. They are then made comfortable in a room with a large comfy bed, recliner, TV and private bathroom, he said. Most people fall asleep within an hour or two of being situated in their room.

It can be hard to sleep with all those electrodes and wires, Hopkins said. On rare occasions, lab staff have to offer a patient a sedative in order to fall asleep.

After the patient has spent the entire night in the lab, Hopkins gathers the data and puts in a report for doctors, such as Matheny.

Matheny then interprets the results and offers a solution to the patients sleep problems. In the case of sleep apnea, some solutions include weight loss, use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine or surgery.

BDS is a supplier of CPAP machines. The machines force air through a mask covering the patient's nose. The force of the air acts as a splint holding the airway open, Walton said.

A humidifier is often used in conjunction with the CPAP to keep the patient's airway from drying out.

The device also measures and transmits how many times and how long it is used.

Walter, who uses the device, admitted it can be hard to get used to.

He's had patients moan and groan and even throw the machine across the room.

However, most patients eventually get used to the machine and even panic when they accidentally leave it behind while on vacation.

"I have patients who say, 'I have to wear this for the rest of my life?' A few weeks later they're saying they can't live without it," Matheny said.

Matheny said the results provided by the machine can be nearly instantaneous. After a few nights on the machine, a person's blood pressure, insulin and hormone levels can return nearly to normal.

However, once a patient stops using a CPAP machine, all of the symptoms and problems return, Matheny said.

For some patients a CPAP isn't the answer. Some can't get used to the machine, others don't want to be bothered with a machine and for some it just doesn't work for them. In that case, surgery is option, Matheny said. Surgery can help alleviate the symptoms, but it doesn't always provide the results that a CPAP can, he said.

The only way to know if your symptoms are related to sleep apnea or another sleep disorder is to talk to your doctor and be referred to the Sleep Disorder Center, Matheny said.

For more information on sleep apnea or other sleep disorders, contact your doctor or the KRMC Disorders Center at (928) 692-4144.