Although drugs were mentioned as a possible contributing factor in an autopsy report following Carrie Fisher’s death, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office stated that the primary cause death was sleep apnea. This finding has many people worried about their own health and wondering whether they have sleep apnea.
According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, an estimated 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. Perhaps even more shocking is that 80 percent of moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea cases are undiagnosed.
A University of Wisconsin-Madison study found that people with severe, untreated sleep apnea died at a rate more than three times that of those without apnea. Those who had 30 or more breathing pauses per hour while sleeping had five times the risk of cardiovascular death compared to those who had fewer than five. Fortunately, treatment reduces this risk.
Here’s how to identify possible sleep apnea and take action to reduce health risks for yourself or someone you love.
Risk Factors And Symptoms
Several characteristics and habits can make a person more likely to have sleep apnea. Men are more likely to have it than women, although women who are overweight have an increased chance, especially after menopause. Smoking, nasal congestion and family history are other risk factors.
Symptoms include snoring and breathing cessation while sleeping; abrupt awakenings with a dry mouth or shortness of breath; excessive sleepiness, irritability and attention problems; and waking up with headaches.
Diagnosing Sleep Apnea
Following a medical examination, most people with suspected sleep apnea undergo sleep studies. These tests, which may take place at home or at a sleep lab, monitor factors such as brain activity, eye movements and heart rate as well as the amount of oxygen in the blood, air movement through the nose and snoring to determine whether a person has sleep apnea.
Treatment and Prevention
Depending on the severity, lifestyle changes, mouthpieces, breathing devices or surgery may be used to treat sleep apnea. Lifestyle changes such as losing weight, avoiding alcohol or certain medications, sleeping on your side and quitting smoking can both treat and prevent sleep apnea. Of course, you should talk to your health care provider if you believe you are at risk.