Sleep apnea problems are potentially serious disorders in which breathing pauses or become shallow during sleep. These episodes of stop-and-start breathing can occur five to 30 times or more an hour. The disorder can be classified as either obstructive or central, or it can be a combination of both. The central type occurs when the breathing control center in the brain fails to emit the correct signals to the breathing muscles. An obstructive categorization is the most common, and involves the airway collapsing or becoming blocked, resulting in pauses or shallow breathing periods.
Symptoms of the two types of sleep apnea problems can overlap. Signs of this disorder include loud snoring, which occurs more often in the obstructive type; excessive daytime sleepiness; and observed periods of breathing cessation during sleep. Other symptoms involve morning headaches, difficulty staying asleep, and waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat. The patient may also awaken abruptly and experience shortness of breath.
Sleep apnea problems can result in several complications, perhaps the most serious of which is cardiovascular disorders. The abrupt lowering of blood oxygen levels during the episodes of breathing cessation can cause high blood pressure. Obstructive apnea can raise the risk of stroke even in patients who don’t have high blood pressure. The obstructive type can also elevate the risk of atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure. Those with underlying heart conditions can die from a heart event elicited by the apnea episodes.
Another complication of obstructive sleep apnea problems involves the area of medications and surgery. The general anesthesia and sedation connected with major surgery can produce further difficulties since these patients are already prone to breathing problems. Before any surgery, patients should inform their doctor of their sleep apnea and the treatment they take for it. When this condition is undiagnosed, it can present a great risk in surgery.
Other complications and side effects of sleep apnea problems include daytime drowsiness, fatigue, and irritability. Memory problems, morning headaches, and depression can also be manifested. These patients may experience impotence, frequent night urination, and gastroesophageal reflux disease. Sleep partners of apnea patients may be sleep-deprived, as the loud snoring can disturb their rest.
Children and adolescents with these sleeping disorders generally don’t do well in school and exhibit behavioral problems. If their apnea is undiagnosed, they may be hyperactive. They also may have received an incorrect diagnosis of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder since their inability to focus may simply be due to lack of sleep.