Topic Overview

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Can sleep apnea cause other problems?

Having sleep apnea can lead to serious problems such as:

If you have sleep apnea, you also may not be sleeping as well as you could. If you feel sleepy during the day and this gets in the way of the normal things you do (like work, school, or driving), it's important to talk to your doctor. Be safe. Do not drive while you are drowsy.

How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

Your doctor will probably examine you and ask about your past health. He or she may also ask you or your sleep partner about your snoring and sleep behavior and how tired you feel during the day.

Your doctor may suggest a sleep study. A sleep study usually takes place at a sleep center, where you will spend the night. Sleep studies find out how often you stop breathing or have too little air flowing into your lungs during sleep. They also find out how much oxygen you have in your blood during sleep. You may have blood tests and X-rays.

How is it treated?

You may be able to treat mild sleep apnea by making changes in how you live and the way you sleep. For example:

  • Lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Sleep on your side and not your back.
  • Avoid alcohol and medicines such as sedatives before bed.

If lifestyle changes don't help sleep apnea, you may be able to use an oral breathing device or other types of devices. These devices help keep your airways open while you sleep.

Sleep apnea is often treated with a machine that helps you breathe while you sleep. This treatment is called continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP (say "SEE-pap"). Sometimes medicine that helps you stay awake during the day may be used along with CPAP. If your tonsils, adenoids, uvula, or other tissues are blocking your airway, your doctor may suggest surgery to open your airway.

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