Editor’s Note: this article originally appeared in the summer edition of Coastal Sport & Wellness. Be sure to pick up a copy today!

Sleep Apnea Can Kill You – It Killed Carrie Fisher –

Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia in Star Wars) died on 12/27/16 at age 60. She died of cardiac arrest, four days after experiencing a medical emergency during a flight from London to Los Angeles. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office revealed “sleep apnea with other conditions: atherosclerotic heart disease and drug use” were major contributing factors to her sudden death. 

Dr. Neomi Shah and her colleagues at Yale University studied sleep apnea. They noted, “when a person has sleep apnea for 4 or 5 years, his or her risk of having a heart attack is increased by 30%”.

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is basically a mechanical problem while a person is asleep. The mechanical obstruction can occur when the throat muscles intermittently relax and block the airway during sleep. This can occur many times during sleep. Usually, a person would awaken suddenly and gasp for breath.

Frequently with OSA, the tongue falls back against the soft palate, and then the soft palate falls back against the back of the throat. This closes the airway. If the airway closes, then the person who is asleep will go through the motion of expanding the chest to breathe; however, no air will enter the lungs.

In severe cases, this could be life-threatening.

How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

A medical doctor can diagnose this serious disorder either by a sleep study performed at a sleep clinic, or by wearing a special testing device while sleeping at home.

Here are some symptoms and signs of OSA:

  • Snoring loudly and frequently
  • High blood pressure with no apparent cause
  • Gasping for breath or choking while asleep
  • Thickened tongue along with gritting & grinding of teeth at night
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Waking with an excessively dry mouth or sore throat

Treatment of OSA

1. The Lifestyle Changes

If you are obese, smoke, or drink alcohol in excess, then you should seriously consider losing weight, quitting smoking; and limiting alcohol.

2. C-PAP – Continuous Positive Airway Pressure

Some people with moderate to severe sleep apnea require a mechanical device to help them breath. One machine is a C-PAP device. This is a small pump with a mask that covers the nose and mouth. It delivers a supply of compressed air.

3. MAD – Mandibular Advancement Device

In mild cases of sleep apnea, a dentist can customize a dental device to help open the airway. This dental appliance looks like and fits like a “bite guard”. It actually moves the lower jaw slightly forward when sleeping. It positions the jaw and the tongue in such a way that it increases space in the back of the throat. In this way, it helps to open up the airway.

4. Surgery

Various surgical procedures are available as a last resort. These surgical procedures can modify the soft tissues around the throat to open and help maintain a healthy airway

Final Thoughts

OSA can be annoying to you and to your sleep partner. However, OSA can create serious medical problems and even death. If you experience any symptoms or signs that might suggest OSA, have your medical doctor schedule you for proper testing. Early treatment could be lifesaving.

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