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The Dangers of Sleep Apnea: Why You Should See a Neurologist

Sleep Apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. If you snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night’s sleep, you could have sleep apnea. Experienced Leesburg, VA neurologist, Dr. Sarbjot Dulai, gives an in depth look at the dangers of sleep apnea, why you should not ignore the symptoms, and when you should seek help from a neurologist. 

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea happens when the upper airway muscles relax during sleep and pinch-off that airway. This prevents you from getting enough air.  Your breathing may pause for 10 seconds or more at a time, until your reflexes kick in and you start breathing again. 

There are 3 main types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea syndrome.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea– the most common form of sleep apnea, this occurs when throat muscles relax intermittently disrupting airflow. 
  • Central sleep apnea– occurs when your brain does not send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome– also known as treatment emergent central sleep, which occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Why is sleep apnea dangerous if undiagnosed?

Not only are exercise and a healthy diet important for your health, but also the quality of your sleep. These areas, particularly undiagnosed sleep apnea, have been found to have a direct link to an increased risk in cardiovascular and metabolic health issues (i.e., heart disease and diabetes). 

According to John Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center, sleep apnea is a common problem that most people might not even be aware they have.

Sometimes sleep apnea is only noticed due to a partner noticing breathing stopping and starting, or loud snoring. Although, it should be said snoring is not the same as having sleep apnea. Some may have sleep apnea without much snoring. These symptoms coupled with other symptoms like unexplained mood swings and fatigue should lead you to seek a neurologist in Leesburg, Virginia for diagnosis. The consequences of undiagnosed sleep apnea can be anything from lost productivity at work, mood swings, feeling groggy all the time, or even car accidents. If your breathing is continually being interrupted and waking you up, this prevents settling into a deep nourishing sleep. This takes a toll on your body as well. Multiple studies have shown an association between sleep apnea and other health issues like type 2 diabetes, stroke,  and heart attack. Long term consequences of sleep apnea or the health issues it can cause can also lead to a shorter lifespan. 

Who is at risk for sleep apnea?

Anyone, regardless of size, shape, or sex can experience sleep apnea. Although men, 40 years and older, are more likely to experience sleep apnea compared to women, that does not mean women are immune to the disorder and should not be aware of the symptoms.  Other reasons you could be at risk for sleep apnea include:

  • Having large tonsils
  • Having a large neck size (17 inches or more for men, and 16 inches or more for women)
  • A family history of sleep apnea 
  • Women who are post-menopausal 
  • Suffer from nasal obstruction due to allergies, sinus issues, and a deviated septum
  • Carrying excess weight
  • Smoking
  • Other medical conditions. 

Early warning signs

The signs and symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apneas overlap, sometimes making it difficult to determine which type you have. The most common early warning signs to look for in both cases can include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Loud snoring
  • Observed episodes of stopped breathing during sleep
  •  Abruptly waking up gasping or choking for air 
  • Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
  • Morning headache
  • Difficulty concentrating during the day
  • Experiencing mood changes (i.e., depression or irritability) 

It is important to talk to your neurologist about any sleep issues that leaves you fatigued, sleepy, and irritable. Treatment can ease your symptoms and might help prevent heart problems and other complications. 

Experiencing symptoms that could be sleep apnea? Make an appointment with your neurologist today! 

Since treatment differs based on the type of sleep apnea, and the multiple symptoms that come with it, make an appointment with Dulles neurologist Dr. Dulai. He can help discover whether your symptoms warrant a sleep study for a sleep apnea diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is made, he can then help manage the disorder so you can live your best life. Call Neurology Associates today at (703) 726-6393 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Dulai.