Diagnosis and Treatment of Sleep Apnea Proven Through Doctor’s Personal Experience
Dr. Christopher Notte had long been a loud snorer. And for more of his adult life, he found himself fatigued, but he always chalked it up to medical school, residency and having children. But about 12 years into his marriage, he had an eye-opening experience.
“My wife recorded me on her iPhone one night and played it back for me the next day,” said the medical director of ambulatory markets and physician informatics for Abington-Jefferson Health.
“What I heard scared me into getting a sleep study: about 30 seconds of silence followed by the sounds of labored gasping for air, and this repeated over and over again. I felt my life was truly in jeopardy and called to make an appointment that day.”
His diagnosis? Severe sleep apnea.
A Serious Sleep Disorder
Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person's breathing is interrupted during sleep. When sleep apnea is left untreated, you can stop breathing repeatedly during your sleep, sometimes hundreds of times. This means the brain and the rest of the body may not get enough oxygen.
Despite being one of the most common sleep disorders, sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed and unnoticed due to a lack of awareness of its signs and symptoms.
“Other than the obvious and immediate risk of daytime sleepiness and decreased mental functioning due to robbing the brain of oxygen night after night, [sleep apnea] puts people at risk for several other severe health conditions,” Dr. Notte said.
When untreated, the condition increases risk of heart conditions, stroke and diabetes. Another side effect? Feeling drowsy and fatigued during the day, potentially to the detriment of your ability to work effectively and drive safely.
“People who suffer from sleep apnea are much more likely to get hypertension, pulmonary arterial hypertension (an extremely severe version of hypertension), coronary artery disease and experience cardiac arrhythmias, heart failure and stroke. Additionally, there is an increased prevalence of diabetes, liver disease and surgical complications with this group,” Dr. Notte explained.
What he finds most compelling is the fact that people with sleep apnea have a two to threefold greater risk of death from all causes than those without the condition.
There are some risk factors that make certain people more prone to sleep apnea, but the reality of the condition is that it is much broader.
“Certainly the most commonly cited risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea is excess weight, but that doesn’t have to mean obesity. I’m about 5’10” tall and 180 pounds, yet I’ve been diagnosed with ‘severe sleep apnea.’ Other important risk factors include advancing age, male gender, and upper airway soft tissue abnormalities,” Dr. Notte said. In addition, smoking; chronic heart, lung, or renal disease; family history; and many other factors can increase a patient’s risk of obstructive sleep apnea.
Essentially, it can affect the young or old, male or female, and out of shape to super fit, so awareness of the condition's signs and effects are important for everyone.
The Proper Diagnosis
If you think you may have sleep apnea, there are somethings you will need to do in order to be properly diagnosed.
“The key to diagnosing sleep apnea is a sleep study and a consultation with a physician,” Dr. Notte said. When he was preparing for his own sleep study, he was worried about the time involved with getting the study done, and that he wouldn’t be able to sleep while hooked up to monitoring equipment.
“When I went in for the study, my fears were quickly put to rest, pun intended. I arrived at the Warminster sleep lab at 9:30 p.m. on a Sunday evening, was asleep by 10:30 and left at 6:30 a.m. Monday morning. During the study, the technologist let me try sleeping with the CPAP machine. I can honestly say that was the first best sleep of my adult life,” he said. CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy is a common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. A CPAP includes a small machine that supplies constant and steady air pressure, a hose, and a mask or nose piece.
After using a CPAP machine during the study and after exploring all of the treatment options, Dr. Notte decided to give CPAP a try.
“I won’t lie, it took me almost a year to truly get acclimated to wearing the mask night after night. Now, however, I can’t imagine sleeping without it,” he said. “I wake up feeling refreshed, have a greater ability to focus at work, and have much more energy throughout the day. Most importantly, I now sleep silently, allowing my wife to finally sleep soundly.”
Other sleep apnea therapies available include upper airway surgery, dental appliances and nerve stimulation techniques; although Dr. Notte points out that CPAP therapy and weight loss combined have been proven to be the best and most consistent options when managing sleep apnea over the long term.
“The best way to determine what is right for you is to have a sleep study and consultation with a sleep specialist,” he said.
For more information on how to schedule a sleep study, call the Sleep Disorder Center at 215-481-2226.