Sleep Apnea

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing stops and starts repeatedly during sleep. There are two types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea: This is the most common type, and it occurs more often in men than in women. It occurs when the airway narrows or closes during sleep, momentarily stopping your breathing. People with obstructive sleep apnea will wake briefly, snort or gasp, then begin breathing normally again. They also often snore loudly.
  • Central sleep apnea: This type of sleep apnea is caused by the brain not sending the right signals to the muscles that control breathing.  

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

Some of the symptoms of sleep apnea can be easily mistaken for other disorders. But a thorough history can help your doctor determine if the following symptoms indicate sleep apnea. These include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Shortness of breath that wakes you up
  • Pauses in breathing while you sleep (your partner may notice this during the night)
  • Excessive daytime drowsiness and fatigue
  • Waking up with a dry mouth and/or headache
  • Waking up frequently during the night to urinate

What causes sleep apnea?

The causes of sleep apnea depend in part on which type you have. Common causes for obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having a smaller airway, due to enlarged tonsils or adenoids
  • Being male
  • Using alcohol or other sedatives
  • Having nasal congestion
  • Having a genetic predisposition or family history of sleep apnea

Common causes for central sleep apnea include:

  • Using opioid pain medications
  • Having heart failure or other heart conditions
  • Having had a stroke

Consequences of sleep apnea

If it’s left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to several, potentially serious, health complications, such as:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased risk of heart attack
  • Higher risk of stroke
  • Worsening of diabetes
  • Depression
  • Cognitive issues, including memory problems, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Excessive sleepiness which can lead to accidents at work and when driving
  • During pregnancy, it can increase your risk of preeclampsia (elevated blood pressure) and premature delivery

How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

Your doctor might ask you to keep a sleep diary to record your symptoms in addition to taking your complete health history. And even if your symptoms point to a diagnosis of sleep apnea, the only way to definitively diagnose the condition is to do a sleep study. At Henry Ford, we offer two sleep study options so that you and your doctor can choose the one that best suits your needs.

  • Sleep lab study: For this test, you will spend the night at one of our sleep lab locations . Our technicians will hook you up to devices that measure your brain waves, breathing and oxygen levels and monitor how many times an hour your breathing is blocked.
  • Home sleep test: A small device that you set up in your home to measure your breathing and oxygen levels while you sleep in your own bed.

How is sleep apnea treated?

There are several effective methods for treating sleep apnea, including lifestyle changes, surgery and some newer, less invasive devices. Our caring team of sleep specialists will work closely with you to determine the best treatment to suit your condition and your lifestyle.

Lifestyle changes

  • Losing weight
  • Avoiding alcohol and narcotic pain medications
  • Sleeping on your side or propped up

Devices

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device: This is the traditional treatment for sleep apnea and still the best solution for those with moderate-to-severe sleep apnea. It requires wearing a mask over your nose and mouth. The mask is attached to a machine that adjusts the pressure of the air you breathe in and out to keep your airway open.  
  • MATRx™: This oral appliance is custom-fit by a dentist to move your lower jaw forward while sleeping to help keep your airway open. This newer technology, offered at Henry Ford, gives patients a less obtrusive, more portable option for treating mild-to-moderate sleep apnea.

Surgery

Surgery may be an option for people who are unable to use CPAP or an oral appliance.  There are multiple surgical options available to correct sleep apnea, including less invasive procedures.
At Henry Ford, our sleep doctors work together with the ear, nose and throat surgeons to determine if surgery is right for you.

Learn more about our sleep apnea surgery options. 

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