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Could snoring signal need to see doctor?

Published On: Mar 05 2012 01:01:52 PM CST
Updated On: Aug 17 2012 10:50:17 AM CDT
Man sleeping, napping

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(NewsUSA) - It's a common complaint among couples -- "Your snoring is keeping me awake!"

But what many couples may not realize is that snoring could be a sign of a more serious medical condition, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Approximately 12 million to 18 million American adults have OSA, but it is estimated that between 80 and 90 percent of those individuals are undiagnosed.

OSA is a sleep disorder. In OSA, a person's airway collapses many times during the night, causing them to repeatedly stop breathing for short periods of time, which deprives the body of oxygen. OSA is associated with loud snoring that is interrupted by periods of silence followed by gasps for air.

According to Dr. Joanne Getsy from the Drexel Sleep Center of Manayunk at Drexel University College of Medicine, "The breathing pauses that someone with OSA experiences may result in reductions in blood oxygen saturation and fluctuations in blood pressure and heart rate, which raises the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and death."

Risk factors for OSA include obesity, large neck size, or abnormalities of the skull, face, nose and oral cavity. Besides snoring and pauses in breathing during sleep, one common symptom of OSA is excessive sleepiness (ES), which is the inability to consistently achieve and sustain wakefulness and alertness to accomplish the tasks of daily living.

There are many questionnaires a physician might use to help identify whether a patient is at risk for OSA. The STOP questionnaire is an easy-to-use, four-question screening tool to help identify certain risk factors for OSA. With the STOP, a patient is asked to identify whether they snore, often feel tired, have been observed to stop breathing during sleep or have or are being treated for high blood pressure. Based on the patient's response, their physician may then order an overnight study at a local sleep center, during which the patient's breathing patterns are monitored and analyzed.

One standard treatment for OSA is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which uses a mask-like device and pump that work together to keep the airway open with air pressure. Despite the use of the CPAP device, patients may continue to experience symptoms, such as residual excessive sleepiness. In one study, even after three months of CPAP treatment, as many as 65 percent of patients still suffered from objective ES. A doctor may assess a patient's level of sleepiness using a questionnaire called the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, also known as the ESS. Fortunately, there is help for residual ES sufferers. They should speak to their physicians for more information on the treatment of OSA and ES associated with treated OSA.

If you or someone you know snores loudly or falls asleep at inappropriate times during the day, it may be time to talk to a doctor about obstructive sleep apnea.