Indian healthcare is burdened not only with infectious diseases, but also with chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension. Another most common yet unrecognized problem is sleep deprivation. Sleep Apnea and Insomnia are common sleep disorders which are contributing to sleep deprivation along with poor sleep hygiene. Untreated sleep apnea can increase the risk of diseases like heart attacks, stroke, diabetes and motor vehicle accidents.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a disorder in which a person stops breathing during sleep perhaps hundreds of times; these gaps in breathing are called apneas. The resulting drop in blood oxygen levels trigger brain to disturb sleep which is why one does not feel refreshed in the day. The most common type of sleep apnea is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) in which breathing is disrupted by an obstruction to the airway in the nose, mouth or throat.
Several research studies suggest that prevalence of OSA in the Indian population is about 13% and also the incidence is 3-fold higher in men as compared to women.
Who are at Risk?
Though obese people are four times more prone to OSA, we are seeing increasingly high number of non-obese patients with sleep apnea. The other risk factors are
- Family History
- Large Neck
- Abnormalities of Airway
- Alcohol use
Many go undiagnosed because doctors usually don’t suspect OSA during a routine visit.
What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?
Snoring and daytime sleepiness are the most common symptoms of OSA. Other symptoms are
- Learning Problems
- Morning headaches
- Depression/Mood Swings
- Napping at work
- Napping for a few seconds while driving
- Dry throat on waking up
- Loss of sexual desire
People with OSA may present with serious problems like uncontrolled high blood pressure or a stroke in an emergency situation – when explored the root cause could be OSA.
How is Sleep Apnea diagnosed?
OSA can be diagnosed at a Sleep Centre during an overnight sleep study (polysomnography). The sleep study charts vitals like brain waves, heartbeat, oxygen levels and breathing. It would be advisable to get the first sleep study done in a dedicated and well-equipped Sleep Lab under the supervision of a qualified sleep technician.
What is the treatment for Sleep Apnea?
OSA can be treated with different modalities depending up on the severity. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices are the standard for moderate to severe OSA. CPAP acts as an air splint and keeps the airway open with the required amount of pressure during obstruction. CPAP machines now are sleeker, virtually silent and much more comfortable with fitting masks compared to older machines.
Awareness and early diagnosis by a physician and referral to a specialist can prevent potential dangers of OSA. Patients undergoing routine health check-up with symptoms of snoring, daytime sleepiness, obesity, hypertension, and high-risk cases should undergo a comprehensive sleep evaluation.
Dr Nalini Nagalla
Senior Consultant Pulmonologist
Pulmonary & Sleep Disorders