Sleep Apnea: Do You Have It? Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

Updated on July 26, 2018
Gerry Glenn Jones profile image

Gerry suffers from sleep apnea and uses a CPAP machine. He also has other disorders that were possibly caused by this condition.

Sleep Apnea Is Not Just a Simple Loss of Sleep: It Is Much More Than That

When I was a young man, I had problems with snoring, waking throughout the night, sleepwalking, and waking up tired. I now remember my dad had some of the same problems, even before mine began. He snored very loudly but would stop suddenly, and we all wondered if he was alright, but soon, he would start snoring again. He would also go to sleep while driving in the daytime, and I've even witnessed him standing up and leaning against something and sleeping.

I found out what was wrong with him after he died, because I was diagnosed with it, and had many of the same symptoms. I hope this article will help other people suffering from this affliction, and encourage them to seek medical attention before it causes some of the medical problems I have.

 Illustration of obstruction of ventilation
Illustration of obstruction of ventilation | Source

Some Babies Have This Disorder

In addition to young people and adults, babies can have sleep apnea disorders. Some in the medical field believe that sudden infantile death syndrome (crib death) may be a direct cause, but many think it is a combination of it and some other type of airway obstruction. If you have sleep apnea and have a newborn, it is a good idea to tell your pediatrician about it. They may want to examine your child for apnea and possibly put a sleep monitor on the baby while they are sleeping in their crib.

Also, please understand I'm not a doctor, and I'm certainly not trying to diagnose your medical problem. My hope is that maybe I can give you the right direction to take to seek qualified medical attention if you have or believe you have this condition.

An illustration depicting a sleep apnea monitor
An illustration depicting a sleep apnea monitor | Source

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

According to medical officials, sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder in which an individual's breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. Symptoms typically include at least some of the following:

  • daytime sleepiness
  • loud snoring
  • disrupted sleep
  • sleepwalking
  • waking tired
  • waking with a headache
  • depression
  • heartburn
  • impotency
  • trouble with concentration

This disorder causes involuntary pauses in breathing and can result either from a blocked airway or a signaling problem in the brain. Most people with the condition have the first kind: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The other condition is central sleep apnea (CSA), which is caused by the brain sending the wrong stimuli to the muscles that control your breathing. Also, there is, in fact, a third condition, called mixed sleep apnea. This disorder is caused when a person has both OSA and CSA.

A sleep study conducted by a certified sleep specialist can help identify the type of sleep disorder you suffer from and diagnose the proper treatment.

Sleep Apnea May Cause These Other Serious Complications

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has identified the following disorders that can be caused by prolonged sleep apnea:

  • diseases of the heart and blood vessels, like atherosclerosis, heart attacks, heart failure, difficult-to-control high blood pressure, and stroke
  • cognitive and behavioral disorders, such as decreases in attention, vigilance, concentration, motor skills, and verbal and visuospatial memory, as well as dementia in older adults. In children, it has been associated with learning disabilities.
  • atrial fibrillation
  • metabolic disorders, including glucose intolerance and type 2 diabetes
  • asthma
  • chronic kidney disease
  • pregnancy complications, including gestational diabetes and gestational high blood pressure external link, as well as having a baby with low birth weight
  • cancers, like pancreatic, renal, and skin cancers
  • eye disorders, such as glaucoma, dry eye, or keratoconus
  • inflammation

Illustration shows that obesity may contribute to sleep apnea
Illustration shows that obesity may contribute to sleep apnea | Source

How to Treat Sleep Apnea Without Medication or Breathing Devices

As stated earlier, this is an extremely serious disorder that can exacerbate other medical problems or create new ones. However, there are some things your doctor may ask you to do before receiving any advanced medical treatment:

  • Make heart-healthy eating choices as you would on a heart-healthy diet.
  • Limit your alcohol intake.
  • Set yourself up with an exercise routine; one that you're physically able to perform.
  • If you are overweight, set goals to lose some pounds. According to research, sleep apnea patients who are overweight have a higher tendency of developing sleep apnea.
  • Some doctors recommend changing sleeping habits and trying to get the amount of sleep that fits your age group.
  • Quit smoking and avoid others that smoke. Inform friends and loved ones that you have a medical disorder and that secondhand smoking may cause it to worsen. Ask them to refrain from smoking in your car or home.

Surgery Is Sometimes Necessary

Illustration of corrective surgery to stop sleep apnea
Illustration of corrective surgery to stop sleep apnea | Source

Correction Devices

There are many devices used to treat sleep apnea, and I am not qualified to explain them or how they work; only your specialist can recommend one and write a prescription for it. Some are simple and relatively inexpensive, while others are more technical and more expensive, but most insurance companies will cover the major cost, leaving you with a deductible or copay.

A sleep apnea mask and machine
A sleep apnea mask and machine | Source

CPAP Machine

CPAP machine type S9 with heated humidifier type H5i (producer: ResMed), with two models of full face masks
CPAP machine type S9 with heated humidifier type H5i (producer: ResMed), with two models of full face masks | Source

My Experience With Sleep Apnea

As I stated at the beginning of this article, I have severe sleep apnea. I use a continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP) that pumps air into my nose through a plastic tube. This keeps my airway open and allows me to sleep comfortably. However, I had this condition many years before I was diagnosed with it, and I sincerely believe it led to some other health disorders.

I also developed the following conditions:

  • atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of fat on the interior walls of the arteries.
  • four heart attacks, with the first occurring when I was 35 years old. These have resulted in bypass surgery and many stents.
  • difficult-to-control high blood pressure
  • depression for which I require medication
  • type 1 diabetes
  • eye disorders (cataracts)
  • problems with inflammation

My health conditions consist of almost everything in the list of complications which sleep apnea can cause. I only wish I had known what the symptoms were and received treatment earlier.

If you think you have this disorder, please don't wait. Talk to your physician about your health problems and receive treatment.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Gerry Glenn Jones

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      • profile image

        Gerry Glenn Jones 

        12 months ago

        You are very welcome, Grandmommy51. There are so many people with this disorder that have no idea they have it.

      • profile image

        Grandmommy51 

        12 months ago

        I had to have triple bypass at 39 and have lots of stents my oldest sister alive was dignosed with sleep apnea as well as three of my brothers I'm the baby of eight. When she was dignosed a month ago suggested i should be tested so per her suggestion was tested and tuesday was told I do have it as well. I'm now 51 and like you wish I had known years ago maybe the heart problems could have been prevented. Hope our stories will help others prevent major health issues in their lives. Thank you for sharing your story.

      • Gerry Glenn Jones profile imageAUTHOR

        Gerry Glenn Jones 

        15 months ago from Somerville, Tennessee

        I do too Pamela because it is far more serious than what most people think. That included me until I was diagnosed with it. I feel that I could have eliminated many of my health issues if I had known. When I told my wife that I was going to write this article, she said that I might do more good for people with this article than any I've ever written.

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        15 months ago from Sunny Florida

        It is sad that yout had a heart attack at 35 due to this problem. My broter-in-law wears a CPAC at night also. He had a heart valve replacement, but I don't know if the sleep apnea was part of the cause. I hope your article will find some people that need this good information.

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