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Medical Information about Sleep Apnea

Like about 10% of all American males in their forties, I suffer from a disorder known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea. People with this disorder stop breathing repeatedly during sleep, then half-awake with a start as their brain registers the drop in oxygen and rise in carbon dioxide in the bloodstream, and starts gasping for air. The noise and spasms are highly disturbing to spouses (and other bedfellows), and often leads to sleeping in separate rooms.

How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed ?

Your doctor will refer you to a sleep clinic, where you will spend a night sleeping with instrumentation attached; the complete hookup is comprised of 21 sensors: EEG, EKG, blood oxymeter (a red light shining through your fingertip to sense how dark your blood is), a pair of thermocouples on the upper lip to check nasal airflow, sensor to detect leg movement, eye movement (electrodes taped to the skin over a musclebetween eyes and temples). There will also be a video camera over the bed, and a microphone on your throat. Everything is recorded.

My readings indicated an average of 40 breathing anomalies per hour, with an average duration of 45 seconds; the longest one was 87 seconds. Blood oxygen dropped to 68% of full saturation at its lowest.

How is Sleep Apnea Treated ?

The most effective treatment is a CPAP (Continous Positive Airway Pressure) machine: A nose mask connected to an air pump delivering a steady pressure of 5-15 cm H2O. This expands the airway enough to prevent blockages. (Like the insulin injections of a diabetic, this is not a cure, but an ongoing treatment - for life!)

When I went for my overnight sleep study, they attached the CPAP machine for the second half of the night, and adjusted the pressure for optimal effect. At a pressure of 9 cm H2O, the sleep improved to at most two anomalies per hour, and blood oxygen saturation was maintained at 95% or better throughout. On the basis of this report, my doctor started a 2-month home trial with a CPAP device. After this, the health insurance purchased the device for me. It has now been over two years, and I am very happy with the device. On the few occasions when I have gone on a business trip without it, I have not slept well.

Apnea Resources on the Net

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