Bedtime may be the favorite time of the day for thousands of people, but it does not always represent rest time for everyone. Has the snoring of your relative or partner ever kept you awake at night? Yes, it has happened to all of us. But we must be aware of a reality: in addition to causing annoying noises, snoring can be an indicator that our companions are suffering from more than just a stuffy nose.
Dr. Ana Carolina Bassol, a graduate of Mexico’s National Institute of Respiratory Diseases, knows about this firsthand. The pulmonologist works at the Galenia Hospital in Cancun, in the south of her country, and has treated dozens of cases of sleep apnea, a condition related to snoring.
This sleep disorder, known in the medical community for being underdiagnosed by professionals and neglected by patients, affects a significant number of Latin Americans in the 21st century. According to this study (in Spanish), 20% of middle-aged adults have at least mild sleep apnea and 80% of cases remain unidentified.
Dr. Bassol is aware of these figures and the possible consequences of suffering from this condition, such as heart disease. That is why she participated in the podcast “Healthy Attitude”, produced by the hospital center where she works, to inform and educate Spanish speakers about snoring and sleep apnea.
Here is a summary of her intervention in the program.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is the total or partial blockage of the upper airway (of the respiratory system) for more than 10 seconds and sometimes even for minutes. It occurs specifically in the pharynx, a tube that connects the nostrils and the oral cavity. This duct is opened by muscle tone but can close when the tone weakens during deep sleep.
According to the doctor, there are several factors that can disrupt the passage of air through the pharynx and increase the likelihood of sleep apnea. Some of the most important are large tonsils, a long tongue, a small nose, and a small chin. She also emphasizes fat deposits, as they can cause the pharynx to collapse even when the individual is awake (due to the great weight they exert on the neck).
How do I know if I have sleep apnea?
To know if you suffer from this syndrome, you can pay attention to the intensity and frequency of your snoring when you sleep. This is one of the most frequent symptoms of the condition, as it occurs when the air causes vibration of the relaxed tissues of the throat.
Another sign that can reveal if you have this condition is the sensation of choking when you just wake up. In fact, sleep apnea can cause you to stop breathing when you sleep. But do not worry: the brain is smart and will never let you die from lack of oxygen. The organ specializes in sending a signal of stress substances (such as adrenaline) that allows you to return to a light sleep and regain the muscle tone that keeps your pharynx dilated.
What else can sleep apnea cause?
According to Bassol, the problems associated with sleep apnea are not only limited to the pharynx but can also trigger negative consequences in the circulatory system.
Whenever there is an obstruction in the upper airway, oxygen in the blood can decrease, which generates inflammatory substances that increase the formation of clots. In addition, adrenaline injections from the brain increase blood pressure, increase heart rate, and change chest pressure. These last modifications place the heart in stressful situations. This is why sleep apnea is linked to cardiac conditions such as acute heart attacks, arrhythmias, heart failure and pulmonary hypertension.
What else can I do to detect sleep apnea?
Bassol comments that the clinical manifestations of sleep apnea when the body is conscious are drowsiness, anxiety, and depression. If you are overcome with doubts and you are not sure about what you have, there are two ways to achieve an accurate diagnosis.
The first option is to take a respiratory polygraphy test. Professionals perform at your home to gather information about your oxygen saturation, your chest and abdominal movements and your airflow in the airway. To get it, they need you to sleep one night with an equipment composed of nasal prongs, a chest monitor, two elastic bands (one on the thorax and one on the abdomen) and an oximeter.
On the other hand, the second alternative is to take a polysomnography test. It is more complete than the previous one and includes an electroencephalogram, an electrocardiogram, and the measurement of other arterial gases, as well as the muscle tone. This is performed only in sleep laboratories and requires observation of the patient for an entire night. It is the best choice if you are a person with previous diseases, such as heart failure.
If you want to listen to the complete podcast (in Spanish) and learn more about sleep apnea, you can click here.