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Medical Conditions Doctors Miss

So you're sleepy a lot and maybe a little blue, and your blood pressure is on the high side. It could be stress, or these and other common symptoms could be signs of serious medical conditions that doctors sometimes overlook.

Sleep Apnea

Snoring is not usually described as breathtaking, but it can be. The grunting or snorting sound could be a sign of a serious condition called sleep apnea. The condition involves regular interruptions in breathing during sleep. People with sleep apnea experience pauses in breathing that could last 10 seconds or longer for up to 60 times per hour.

Many times, only symptoms of sleep apnea are treated and the disorder is overlooked, says Grandi. For instance, when people with sleep apnea complain of being tired and in a bad mood all the time, they often are diagnosed with and treated for depression.

Barbara Phillips, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, cites the frequent association between sleep apnea and obesity as an example.

"Physicians confronted with a very obese patient are having to deal with lots and lots of issues, like diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, and heart disease," Phillips explains. "Doctors tend to go for the low-hanging fruit and try to do the doable, and the most cost-effective things, and I sure don't blame them."

The expense and effort involved in screening can also hamper identification of sleep apnea. A sleep study is recommended for diagnosis. This can involve snoozing several nights at a sleep center while experts observe and measure brain activity, eye movement, muscle activity, breathing movements and oxygen levels, and heart rate.

"Sleep studies are expensive, there are in some centers with long waits to get in, and patients are intimidated by the process," says Phillips. "I think that both patients and potentially referring doctors are put off by this."

Patients who suspect they may have sleep apnea could help themselves by bringing up the matter to a doctor.

Alcohol Abuse and Dependence

Alcohol abuse and dependence are age-old problems that still do not get very much attention in doctors' offices.

Alcohol abuse happens when you continue to drink alcohol despite the significant troubles it causes in your life. Symptoms include:

  • Suffering hangovers
  • Having attendance and performance problems at work or school related to alcohol use
  • Having legal problems, such as physically hurting someone while intoxicated or being arrested for driving under the influence
  • Drinking even though it interferes with medical treatment
  • Becoming injured as a result of alcohol use
  • Hearing loved ones express concern about drinking

Alcohol abuse can lead to alcohol dependence, a condition in which people's lives spiral out of control and center around alcohol use. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcoholism is a disease that includes four symptoms:

  • Craving: A strong need, or compulsion, to drink

  • Loss of control: The inability to limit one's drinking on any given occasion

  • Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, occur when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking.

  • Tolerance: The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol in order to "get high"
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