Sleep Apnea – Symptoms and Types
Sleep Apnea is the technical name for a condition where you momentarily pause breathing, or have very shallow breathing, for a short time while you are asleep. This pause can be as short as a few seconds or as long as a few minutes, and it happens five to thirty times and hour (for really serious cases, it can be more!).
The actual pause in breathing is called an apnea, and it is defined into three separate categories:
- Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) is a very minor (<1%) representative of sleep apneas. It’s cause is an actual physiological lack of respiration effort when you try to breathe while asleep – it isn’t caused by some airway obstruction, as is OSA. Your internal trigger to breathe is somehow affected mentally. Click on the link for more information…
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea (about 85%). Here, there is something physical that impedes the flow of air into your lungs. So here we have sufficient effort (strength) to push air in and out, but something gets in the way. Snoring with OSA is very common.
- Mixed or Complex Sleep Apnea. This one is actually just a mixture of the first two (CSA and OSA) and it’s thought that somehow the continued presence of OSA might bring on the CSA. Nobody is sure how this works.
The diagnosis of any of these types of sleep apnea depend on the actual awareness that you have it! Most often, this comes about by your spouse or partner talking about your gaps in breathing at night, or perhaps your excessive snoring (although it’s not really the snoring that’s the problem – it’s when you stop snoring for short durations during the night).
If the sleep apnea is serious enough that you’re missing out large chunks of restful sleep, then part of the diagnosis can be your sleepiness and fatigue the following day (every day), vision problems, and slower than normal reaction times.
Unfortunately, some people with the problem become so conditioned to feeling tired every day that they come to think that it’s “just normal”, and they never get the sleep apnea diagnosed – this has been known to go on for decades.
Sleep Apnea Diagnosis – What The Doctor Will Look For
Because of one of the reasons mentioned above, you’ve decided to go visit your doctor because you suspect sleep apnea. He’ll take a couple of steps to confirm that you have an issue:
- First he’ll confirm all the daytime fatigue symptoms you’ve already recognized – tired, unfocused, uncoordinated.
- Second he’ll order a sleep test – either a sleep lab polysomnograph test or something you can do at home (normally less accurate, but more convenient – and any obvious apneas will show up in both).
Now you’d think the results of this test would be cut-and-dry, and if you have a serious case they probably are, but there’s some controversy here. There are so many variables involved – age, sex, fitness, diet, smoking, alcohol use, number and severity of apnea episodes at night, and on-and-on, that what one doctor says is apnea may not be confirmed by a different doctor. In my opinion this comes down to the “technical definition” of sleep apnea – but if it’s affecting your life – who cares what we call it.
I would think that if they spotted multiple “events” at night, and you’re drowsy the next day – you have sleep apnea and you should take steps to improve. And there’s many here that don’t even involve a doctor.