Sleep Apnea- The Loud Killer

Is your spouse saying that you are keeping them up from snoring? Do you wake up feeling EXHAUSTED during the day? Is your head in the clouds and you are having a hard time concentrating? Has your spouse said you flat-out stop breathing during sleep?

These are all COMMON examples of needing further investigation to rule out something more serious like OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea).

Most people think nothing of this- but it is a rather serious phenomenon that occurs and leads to severe and life-threatening disease processes.

Unfortunately, 15–30% of males experience this issue. Don’t be fooled, women and children also can experience this and it is present in 10–15% of that demographic!

Risk Factors

There are SEVERAL risk factors that play a role in the development of this disease process.

The three most common heavy hitters in this realm include age, gender, and weight.

Typically, the older we get, the higher risk we are of developing this due to decreased respiratory drive, musculature, polypharmacy, and potential for structural abnormalities to form.

Another big risk factor is being a man! However, that risk factor evens out for menopausal and perimenopausal women due to hormone fluctuations and potential associated weight gain.

The last, and most obvious, heavy hitter is excessive weight. Think about a small child sitting on your chest as you lay down.

Can you take a deep breath with a 50lb child on your chest? Perhaps once? You get tired after that, correct?

Imagine your body doing the same thing when you sleep. You can’t consciously think about breathing when you sleep- that’s where our brain stem kicks in and keeps us alive while we are unconscious.

If you are overweight, your body can’t take a deep breath in and force the air that was breathed in, out. As a result, we develop more carbon dioxide in the blood than oxygen and we start becoming something called hypoxic (low amounts of oxygen).

We will get into why that is important in a minute- but the overall understanding should be to identify your risk factors, ask your partner about your sleeping habits, and truthfully assess how you feel during the day.

Do you wake up feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed or are you about to fall asleep while sitting at a traffic light?

Why Does It Matter?

Well, there are several reasons why this is important to identify. This loud killer can lead to significant issues in the long term.

When our bodies recognize that we aren’t getting enough oxygen, there are some compensatory mechanisms that take place (after all, our body wants to survive)!

If we are hypercapnic (high carbon dioxide leads to death), our heart will begin to pump harder to move more blood flow to the vital organs to ensure survival.

When the heart works harder, it gets bigger and then we have a hard time functioning appropriately.

The left ventricle isn’t able to effectively squeeze and then we get diminished efforts on our return and the physiologic change can lead to an electric impulse issue.

A common disease process associated with sleep apnea is something called atrial fibrillation. The top part and the bottom part of our hearts have to pump in unison.

If the top part doesn’t talk to the bottom part, they don’t move the blood flow that is needed and we get a “pooling” of blood in the top chambers (insert Afib).

When something pools in our blood- it is never a good thing because it eventually will dislodge and travel throughout our body.

That leads to a blood clot that can go to our heart vessels, lungs, or brain.

Besides the conductivity issue and the heart enlargement due to increased workload, blood pressure will increase and there is potential for thickening of our blood in another form.

Once we are in a persistent state of oxygen deprivation (hypercapnia- leads to fatigue), our body will compensate in whichever way possible to ensure survival.

Yet another defense mechanism is to create more red blood cells in the form of erythropoiesis.

Remember, our bodies are always talking to other processes that go on behind the scenes that we don’t know about.

Our adrenal glands will sense that our body is oxygen-deprived and will send a signal to the bone marrow to start producing more red blood cells.

In hopes that by creating more red blood cells we will have more oxygen-carrying capacity to reach the internal organs.

That works well in the short term, but long term our blood becomes more viscous and leads to coagulopathies.

This means we are at another high risk for stroke, heart attack, or clot.

In addition, our heart has to work even harder than it was before to push all this syrupy-like blood from our toes all the way back up to the heart and out again.

These are ALL defensive mechanisms to solve the short-term problem.

If we want to survive a long healthy life, we need to fix the root cause of the issue and stop putting bandaids on in the form of hypertensive medications and therapeutic phlebotomies.

We need a stinking sleep study!

What’s Next?

There are a few different ways we can go about identifying if you have an issue and the next steps to ensure your safety and longevity.

I mean, who knows, you could be on blood pressure medication, be overweight or have heart issues and no one has asked you if you have sleep apnea.

This is more common than not and we need to look at the WHOLE picture prior to being placed on prescription medications.

Especially, since Americans are very overweight due to the crappy foods we consume on a daily basis.

Everyone is so quick to take a pill to solve all their worldly problems.

A sleep study should be performed if your baseline hemoglobin is about 16 (for men). Additionally, excessive daytime fatigue, witnessed snoring, or erratic breathing is another good indicator.

Your provider can write an order for a sleep study (takes 2 mins to write) and they all usually work with major insurance carriers.

There are several companies that are out there that can even send you a box for a cash price and you can do the sleep study in the comfort of your own home.

Either way, get the test done and see if we can learn some more data about your sleep habits.

From there, your insurance can work with you to get a machine and the necessary equipment, or you can bypass that headache and find a reputable shop online that sells everything you need for a fraction of the price.

You always have to do your homework and be your best advocate in healthcare. You get what you pay for so make sure you research, ask questions, and learn about what’s going on and not just take something at face value.

Be strong. Be brave.

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Fascinated with bettering myself and others

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