One of the most prevalent diseases in our nation today is obstructive sleep apnea. According to WebMD, this disease means “cessation of breath” and results from a patient who literally stops breathing for periods of up to twenty to thirty seconds. It is estimated that almost twenty percent of the adult population has some form of the disease, even if not severe. This sample essay highlights the problems of sleep apnea, as well as what the common disease is caused by and how it can be “cured.”
Obstructive sleep apnea
There are many risk factors that contribute to one’s susceptibility to the disease of sleep apnea. For example, being overweight, having a high body mass index (BMI) and having an unhealthy lifestyle can contribute to the onset of obstructive sleep apnea. Because it is “a common chronic disorder that often requires lifelong care,” it is difficult to deal with and can be very dangerous for patients who do not get it treated (UpToDate). While there are various forms of therapies for this disease, I will articulate them later in this essay, first taking the time to highlight the problems sleep apnea poses for those it harms.
Obstructive sleep apnea has many notable symptoms. For example, because the patient stops breathing at night, snoring is a common symptom. The patient is likely to be quiet while they stop breathing and catch their breath with loud noises (WebMD). However, patients with this disease are also likely to experience other symptoms throughout their life: sleepiness, sexual dysfunction, bedwetting, choking, and others (WebMD). Clearly, the symptoms for this disease are very diverse and not limited to just a few traits.
A closer look
While it is difficult to pinpoint pulmonary function results exactly to one disease, obstructive sleep apnea has a few common traits that are indicative of the disease. The pulmonary function test is used to measure what a patient’s normal breathing habits are. If there are any patterns of irregularity, then they are subject to further review by a physician where analysis is required. According to Feyrouz Al-Ashkar MD and colleagues in Interpreting pulmonary function tests: Recognize the pattern, and the diagnosis will follow, obstructive patterns of breathing tend to have specific characteristic traits that show up clearly on tests. For example, the overall forced vital capacity (FVC) of the lungs is typically decreased in patients with this disease (Al-Ashkar 873).
Another common result of the pulmonary function test for this disease would be that the forced expirator volume (FEV)/forced vital capacity (FVC) ratio would be smaller than the normal figure (Al Ashkar 873). This means that the person’s breathing patterns are not normal and they have a hard time breathing because of their lung capacity. Generally, this type of test cannot pin point exactly which type of breathing disorder the patient has. The researchers in the previously mentioned articles cautioned that everyone’s breathing patterns are a bit different and only long term trends should be taken into consideration when determining whether one has a serious illness such as obstructive sleep apnea.
People that have sleep apnea utilize diverse methods of treatment and have many lifestyle issues to deal with. For example, the first one is having trouble sleeping. Because breathing patterns are disrupted, the patient has a difficult time staying asleep or falling asleep. The main type of treatment is usually leading a healthy lifestyle and because a lot of Americans are overweight, weight loss: “weight loss- even a modest amount- can improve sleep apnea” (WebMD). Other lifestyle modifications such as dieting, not drinking alcohol and eating healthy are ways to improve the symptoms. Also, there are surgical options for adults to explore if other therapies do not work.
Devices to treat sleep apnea
Recently, there have been a wide variety of devices available on the market that were built to treat the snoring and potentially fix the breathing issues caused by disease (ASAA). These come in the form of breathing masks, nasal sprays and other devices that try to open up the breathing pathway so patients can stop holding their breath while they are sleeping. Ultimately, it depends on the severity of the disease and the impact on the quality of life to the patient. For some, obstructive sleep apnea is not severe and only causes mild discomfort while sleeping. For others, it is a life-long problem that causes many complications and issues in terms of quality of life. Above all, the biggest method of treating it is still carrying on a healthy lifestyle. The weight related issues seem to be the most influential in determining whether someone has this disease.
After doing this report, I learned that sleep apnea is a common disease that is heavily affected by the quality of life that we have. For example, since obesity and a high body mass index (BMI) is highly correlated to the disease, it is clear that carrying a healthy lifestyle is more important than ever. Also, even when it comes to treatment, following through with a good diet, not drinking alcohol and exercising seems to be the way to make the disease go away. This just places a greater emphasis on living healthy and watching what you do. Also, I learned that this disease is not just about snoring and sleeping; in fact, it affects almost every part of one’s life and is a life-long illness. I learned that when dealing with sleep apnea, there are many different ways to treat it, depending on the severity of it. Understanding lung capacity and the complex parts of the disease is a bit tricky, so professional help is almost a necessity if one thinks they might have it.
I also learned that in the world of medicine, diagnosis and treatment is not as black and white as I once thought. For example, I had always imagined that diseases were pretty straightforward and the symptoms/treatments were clearly laid out. However, with diseases such as these, it is clear that it is much more complicated than that and the role of physicians is to do their best to diagnose based on their research, experience and knowledge.
The three questions I had for the physician are as follows
• What is the most common treatment that you would prescribe for sleep apnea?
• To what extent is this a disease based on lifestyle choices versus genetics?
• Is this disease potentially fatal? If so, why?
Thus, one can only hope that as a society, we will come up with a better way to treat this serious disease, and transition away from thinking it is just a “simple sleeping problem.”
Al-Ashkar, Feyrouz, Reena Mehra, and Peter Mazzone. “Interpreting pulmonary function tests: Recognize the pattern, and the diagnosis will follow.” Cleveland Clinic journal of medicine 70.10 (2003): 866-881. Print.
American Sleep Apnea Association. “American Sleep Apnea Association | Treatment Options.” American Sleep Apnea Association | American Sleep Apnea Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Nov. 2012. .
UpToDate. “Overview of obstructive sleep apnea in adults.” Evidence-Based Clinical Decision Support at the Point of Care | UpToDate. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2012. .
WebMD. “Obstructive Sleep Apnea Causes.” WebMD – Better information. Better health. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2012. .