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People with sleep apnea stop breathing for short periods of time while they are asleep. They usually don't wake up completely when this happens, but in the morning they feel exhausted and continue to feel sleepy during the day.
There are two types of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common and is caused when your throat muscles relax, blocking your airway. The other type, central sleep apnea, is caused when your brain doesn’t send the right signals to the muscles that control your breathing. Some people have a combination of the two types, called complex sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a potentially serious condition and should be treated.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of sleep apnea include:
What Causes It?
Sleep apnea can be caused by a blocked upper airway (called obstructive apnea), by your brain not signaling your lungs to breathe (central apnea), or by a combination of these two problems.
Many physical conditions, such as being overweight, or having large tonsils and adenoids, can cause sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is also linked to medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. The typical person with sleep apnea is an overweight, middle-aged man with allergies. But apnea can happen at any age, and in women as well. Sometimes drugs, such as alcohol, sleeping pills, or heart medications, can trigger apnea. It can also be inherited.
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
People with sleep apnea often go to the doctor because they feel tired all the time or because their partner complains about their snoring. Your health care provider will check your weight and blood pressure and ask about allergies. You may get a device to check your oxygen levels while you sleep. Your health care provider may also refer you to a sleep clinic for overnight testing. Sometimes, your doctor may request X-rays, computed tomography scans (CTs), or magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRIs) to see what may be blocking your airway.
Treatment depends on what is blocking your airway, how severe your sleep apnea is, and other conditions or medical problems you may have.
The most effective treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). CPAP uses a machine and mask to blow air through your airway to keep it open.
Wearing some dental appliances may help by pushing the lower jaw forward, keeping the tongue from blocking the airway, or a combination of both. These may be uncomfortable until you get used to them.
In severe cases, surgery may be needed, but often sleep apnea can be managed with CPAP and lifestyle changes, like losing weight.
The following lifestyle changes may help obstructive apnea:
There is no drug that completely treats sleep apnea. Some of the drugs used in combination with CPAP include:
Medications used to treat central apnea:
Medications used to treat obstructive apnea:
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Alternative therapies may help treat sleep apnea caused by allergies. Homeopathy and nutrition are most likely to have a positive effect. While some manufacturers promote supplements for weight loss, none of these products have been proven to work as well as eating less and exercising more.
Nutrition and Supplements
Few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies, though it may be helpful as a supportive therapy. Professional homeopaths, however, may recommend one or more of the following treatments for sleep apnea based on their knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.
Some evidence suggests that a type of acupuncture called auriculotherapy acupoint pressure may help treat sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a serious condition that can cause fatal heart problems, so it's crucial to stick with your treatment plan. If you are using a mask and ventilator equipment, be sure to take care of them. If they are uncomfortable, talk to your doctor so they can be adjusted.
Keep in contact with your health care provider or sleep clinic to make sure your treatment is working.
If you are pregnant, you may have nasal congestion that makes you snore in a way that people with apnea do. However, this is not the same as sleep apnea. If you have apnea and become pregnant, be sure to continue your treatment so that your condition will not affect your baby.
People who have had a stroke and who have obstructive sleep apnea have a higher risk of early death.
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Review Date: 4/9/2012
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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