Published: Sept. 28, 2011
Updated: Sept. 28, 2011
Sleep apnea is as common as type 2 diabetes, and most people who have sleep apnea haven’t been diagnosed -- which puts them at risk for more than just sleepiness.
Having sleep apnea increases the odds that you’ll develop high blood pressure, heart disease, memory problems, weight gain, impotency, and headaches.
And then there are the dangers that do come along with plain old sleepiness: poor functioning at work and at home, decreased decision-making skills, and a serious risk for impaired driving.
A 2008 study showed that people with sleep apnea double their chances of being in a car accident and are three to five times more likely to be in a severe accident that causes injury.
Being older, being obese, and being a man are three major risk factors for sleep apnea that many people may already be aware of, says Duke neurologist Rodney Radtke, MD.
But it’s important to know that women can also develop the disorder, especially after menopause. A woman’s symptoms might be less obvious than a man’s.
If you’re not obese, you may think your snoring is just garden-variety snoring. But Radtke says fully one-third of sleep apnea patients are not obese.
For women and men, whether fat or thin, sleep troubles of any kind that persist longer than a few months should be addressed with a doctor.
Duke neurologist Paul Peterson, MD, says that if either you or your partner notices the following signs, it’s time to see a physician:
Waking up with a dry mouth, morning headaches, and, occasionally, insomnia may also be symptoms.
Some people with a mild degree of sleep apnea can be helped with lifestyle change -- which is easier said than done, but it’s also completely non-invasive and, obviously, the cheapest option.
For mild cases, one or more of the following may help:
For more serious cases, or when lifestyle change isn’t working, the most common tool used to treat sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. This device blows air into the mouth and nose in order to keep the airway open.
Radtke -- who himself uses the device to treat his own sleep apnea -- says it’s just one of several very effective options that are available for patients with sleep apnea.