Thursday, 23 April 2015

Another Group of Three - Pt 2

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Me

This is Part 2 of a three-part series. Each post can be read independently of the others; however, if you would like to see the full series, click for Part 1 and Part 3.

About 20 years ago, my then girlfriend complained about my snoring. I wasn't all that surprised because I'd sometimes awaken myself from the noise! However, it wasn't the volume (which she described as deafening) that caused her the most concern. She told me that sometimes I was gasping for breath, snorting, almost as if something was choking me.

Admittedly, I thought she was over-reacting but I went to see my doctor anyway. He sent me to an ear, nose and throat specialist, who ordered a slew of scans and tests, diagnosed that I had Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), and operated on me to fix the problem. The snoring went away, the gasping for breath stopped and all was good.

What I didn't know, because I didn't research it, was that the surgery has about a 25-30% success rate. Or, to put it another way, a 70-75% failure rate. I just went about my life, unaware that for the next 20 years the OSA was wreaking havoc with my body and mind.

Image by Habib M’henni
The name tells you that OSA is a sleep disorder. While you're asleep, your muscles relax and something (your palate, tongue or uvula) collapses to create an obstruction in the back of your throat. This causes you to experience an apnea (defined as the cessation of airflow for > 10 seconds). This can happen dozens of times a night without you ever being aware of it. Some people have hundreds of apneas a night.

In my case, each apnea lasts for 18 seconds or more and I experience 70, or more, apneas every hour. In essence, each time I fall asleep, I end up choking myself for a cumulative 20 minutes every hour. I wake up each morning tireder than I was when I went to sleep. Most mornings, I begin my day with a massive headache. Every day is spent in a sluggish haze. My body feels leaden with exhaustion and my thinking is unfocused. My memory is very much hit and miss.

Keep in mind that I wasn't aware that the surgery had failed. The progression of OSA came back gradually. I thought I was tired because of too much work, or dealing with changing shifts, or a bad night's sleep, or too much coffee, or too much stress. So, I developed ways to function including a reliance on notepads. In time, I realized that these methods were becoming less effective. What I didn't know, was why. Sadly, or, fortunately (I truly don't know which it is), it took something quite extreme to answer that why. That will be explored in Part 3 of this series.

The effects of OSA are substantial. There is an increased risk of stroke (the risk to men is increased threefold); type 2 diabetes (48% of type 2 diabetes sufferers have OSA); hypertension; and other ailments, including depression.

In the U.S., the economic cost of undiagnosed OSA, from medical costs to treat related illnesses and OSA caused car accidents, is estimated to be well in excess of $10 billion.

Against all of this - the low success rate of surgery; the increased medical risks and associated medical costs; the increased economic cost - is a simple solution. The recommended treatment is a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device. In essence, you wear a mask and inhale mildly pressurized air. The continuous pressure is used to keep your airways open so that no apneas occur.

Yes, I'll wear a mask, and yes, it's attached to a machine. But, given the choice of continuing to choke myself, or not, I'd rather wear the mask. Ultimately, I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep, waking up with no headache and feeling vital throughout the day.

For two wonderfully informative videos on OSA, please view Sleep Apnea Explained Clearly Part 1 and Part 2.

This is Part 2 of a three-part series. Each post can be read independently of the others; however, if you would like to see the full series, click for Part 1 and Part 3.

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