What a snore! Why your snoring can be more than just a bad habit.
Many people snore (up to 40% of men over 40 years of age) but only a small proportion of those people have sleep apnea. While snoring indicates a partial blockage to air flow it is more of a problem for your sleeping partner! Sleep apnea, however, is a medical disorder that has significant consequences to your heart health and left untreated increases your risk of heart disease as well as diabetes.
How do you know if your snoring is just simple snoring or is a symptom of sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea occurs when your throat collapses during sleep and your brain has to wake you up to start breathing again. This can happen multiple times during the night which cuts your sleep into small increments and you lose good quality sleep – but most people who have apnea don’t know it is happening because they don’t fully wake up during these attacks. Often people, such as a partner, may tell you that you stop breathing or that you were very restless during the night.
The good news is that your brain will wake you up whenever you are not breathing but that break in sleep causes problems the next day. You may feel tired in the morning and all day due to the interrupted sleep. Some patients find that they fall asleep in meetings, in front of the TV and other situations when they are sitting still. This sleepiness can be dangerous as some people have fallen asleep while driving!
What are the risk factors for sleep apnea?
Being a man over 50 years and overweight are key factors. As is your neck circumference. All these contribute to making your throat a little narrower thus making it more likely to collapse during the night when you breathe in.
The easiest and most basic sleep apnea test is the STOP-BANG questionnaire as it identifies the key factors that indicate a high risk of sleep apnea. The S stands for snoring, the T for tiredness, O stands for observed apneas and P for high blood pressure. More than 50% of patients with sleep apnea have high blood pressure which increases your risk for all other heart diseases.
The B in BANG stands for BMI – which is an indicator of the level of obesity – >30 kg.m2 indicates that you are obese, A is for age – where >50 years is important. The N stands for neck circumference and >43cm is the key number and the G is for gender as males are much more likely to get sleep apnea as compared to women.
If you answer yes to 5 out of the 8 questions then you have an 80% chance of having significant obstructive sleep apnea. If your test indicates you are at risk, please speak to your family doctor about the possibility of having sleep apnea and to arrange for an overnight sleep study.
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