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Saturday, January 5, 2008

39 times an hour: Late diagnosis of sleep apnea

Eric Diehl got tired of waking up weary and napping at midday, but he never dreamt he had a life-threatening condition.

"I'm a retired judge from the provincial court and I found that I was having to rest a lot between noon and the reconvening of court at 2 o'clock," he said. "My wife was also telling me that I was a very, very heavy snorer, but I didn't take it seriously and let appointments drift by when I shouldn't have."

When he was finally diagnosed with sleep apnea, tests showed Diehl was waking up 39 times an hour overnight.

"I wasn't conscious of that but obviously when you're waking up like this you're suffering all of the impacts of lack of sleep," he said. "Your powers of concentration go down, your ability to read well just drops."

Sleep apnea is a condition where the airway collapses during sleep. Loud snoring can mark the condition followed by lapses, where there's no sound and then a great gasp as breathing resumes.

After he was diagnosed, Diehl was fitted with continuous airway pressure equipment (CPAC) in 2004.

"Once I was put on this equipment, I was able to put in a regular night's sleep without any trouble at all," said Eric, who serves on the board of the Lung Association of Saskatchewan.

During the day, his endurance and energy has improved "beyond all expectation," he's more relaxed, his risk of heart attack and stroke is reduced and his driving habits and memory have improved.

The untreated condition can lead to many problems.

"During the time that breathing isn't occurring, the body gets very excited, the heart tries to beat faster and it leads to things like high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke," Dr. Brian Graham, the President of the Lung Association of Saskatchewan, said.

Falling asleep behind the wheel is another deadly consequence.

"There's a huge increase in traffic collisions for people with sleep apnea," he said. "In various studies, it's anywhere from three to seven times as high."

That's important because sleep apnea is more common than you might think: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common category of sleep-disordered breathing. The prevalence of OSA among the adult population in western Europe and North America is estimated to be 3-4% of women and 6-7% of men, according to Wikipedia.

Advice to partners of snorers:
Show them this.

Browse for related stories in the index at the very bottom of this page, or read a late diagnosis story.

Thanks to the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix of Jan. 2 for the source story.

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