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HOLISTIC HEALTH - June 2016 - Kansas City

Sleep Apnea: Nuisance or Danger to Your Health

By Nancy Russell, M.D.


Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep.Breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes. They may occur 30 times or more an hour. Typically, normal breathing then starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound. OSA, obstructive sleep apnea is a chronic, ongoing condition that disrupts your sleep. When your breathing pauses or becomes shallow, you’ll often move out of deep sleep and into light sleep. As a result, the quality of your sleep is poor, which makes you tired during the day. Sleep apnea is a leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness.


Sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed. Doctors usually can't detect the condition during routine office visits. Also, no blood test can help diagnose the condition. Most people who have sleep apnea don't know they have it because it only occurs during sleep. A family member or bed partner might be the first to notice signs of sleep apnea. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. In this condition, the airway collapses or becomes blocked during sleep. This causes shallow breathing or breathing pauses. When you try to breathe, any air that squeezes past the blockage can cause loud snoring. Obstructive sleep apnea is more common in people who are overweight, but it can affect anyone. For example, small children who have enlarged tonsil tissues in their throats may have obstructive sleep apnea.


Untreated sleep apnea can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, dementia and diabetes, increase the risk of, or worsen, heart failure, make arrhythmias or irregular heartbeats, more likely and increase the chance of having work-related or driving accidents. OSA increases risk of stroke by 2X and the risk of fatal heart events by 5X. Left untreated, there is an increase in overall death from all causes.

If you or your partner have these symptoms; unintentional sleep episodes during wakefulness, daytime sleepiness, loud snoring, unrefreshed or restless sleep, fatigue, morning headaches, nighttime choking, or insomnia a medical evaluation is advised. To diagnose sleep apnea, a formal sleep study in an overnight sleep lab conducted and evaluated by sleep specialists is optimal. The official name of a sleep study is polysomnography which monitors the 4 stages of sleep with measurements of  brain activity, eye activity, muscle activity, lung volumes, airflow, oxygen levels and heartbeat.


Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that requires long-term management. Lifestyle changes which lead to weight loss can help treat and even reverse OSA is some cases. The mainstay of treatment is a breathing device called CPAP which is continuous positive airway pressure delivered through a mouth or nasal piece or mask. CPAP is generally the most effective. Other treatments consist of mandibular advancement devices, tongue retaining devices, nasal valve therapy, and palate stimulators can successfully treat sleep apnea in some people. Alternative treatments, which can be researched at include orofacial myofunctional therapy which is a re-education or re-patterning of the oral and facial muscles and perhaps Buteyko breathing method. If you have sleep apnea, get a treatment that will work for you.

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Nancy Russell, M.D. has been a holistic Internal Medicine physician in the Kansas City northland for over 30 years at 5140 N. Antioch Road in Kansas City, MO.


Her phone number is 816-453-5545 and website is where you can get more information. Dr. Russell is board certified in holistic medicine and is a member of the American Holistic Medical Association and a prior board member.

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