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Sleep apnea is hazardous to your health

February 12, 2009
Health Matters by By Dr. Josh Schwartzberg

Do you know anyone who frequently and too easily dozes off during the day? Is he overweight and prone to snore? Is he physically and mentally fatigued with memory problems?

This "person" has appeared in my office many times and very likely has a condition called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which can lead to life-threatening health problems such as high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, depression and motor vehicle accidents.

As many as 20 percent of men and 7 percent of women have mild to moderate sleep apnea (impaired breathing) and 70 percent are overweight.

More than 50 percent of people with OSA have clinical depression. The combination of excessive daytime sleepiness with snoring and/or irregular breathing pattern during sleep is typical. Amazingly, more than 80 percent of men and women with moderate to severe disease remain undiagnosed.

Of the 18 million people in this country with OSA most are overweight, are males and have high blood pressure. It is estimated that 1 to 4 percent of children have OSA. Twenty percent of all motor vehicle accidents are caused by driver sleepiness.

Most OSA patients have become so accustomed to their symptoms that they have no idea they would benefit from proper diagnosis and treatment. So what is the treatment?

CPAP, otherwise known as continuous positive airway pressure, involves a bedside compressor with a snug fitting mask that keeps the upper airway from collapsing, which can deprive the heart and brain of adequate oxygen supply during sleep. It is this partial collapse that can cause loud snoring and insufficient air getting in and out of the lungs. Other types of treatment that can relieve the mechanical airway obstruction include oral appliances or even upper airway surgery. With proper treatment the patient will no longer have excessive daytime sleepiness, poor concentration, reduced alertness, memory difficulty and depression symptoms.

Awareness of this condition and a high index of suspicion on the part of physicians, with proper treatment, results in not only many lives being saved but also a tremendous improvement in the enjoyment of day to day activities.

Dr. Josh Schwartzberg practices in Lake Placid, Willsboro and Burlington, Vt. and can be contacted at or at home at 963-4355.



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