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Surgical treatment can help sleep apnea

graphic

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- A good night's sleep is little more than a dream for millions of people who snore, gasp and wake fitfully during the night, unable to sustain a restful deep sleep.

They suffer from sleep apnea, a potentially dangerous condition that is estimated to affect some 18 million people and countless others who share their beds.

 COMMON SYMPTOMS
  • Loud snoring
  • Sleepiness during the day
  • Frequent waking at night

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    Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common form, occurs when soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses and closes the airway during sleep. Left untreated, the potentially life-threatening disorder can lead to high-blood pressure, heart attack, irregular heartbeat or stroke.

    Feeling unrefreshed no matter how long you've slept is one tip-off to the disorder.

    "I had been living with no energy, falling asleep anytime, anywhere," explained Yvone Hopkins, who knew she needed treatment after dozing off while driving.

    Hopkins decided on a new surgical technique called maxillomandibular advancement, or MMA. Surgeons enlarged her airway by moving her jaws and chin forward. That tightened the soft tissue around the airway and made breathing much easier, curing her apnea.

    Breathing machines

    Sleep apnea sufferers can have 20 to 60 or more involuntary episodes an hour in which their breathing pauses, with each event lasting 10 seconds or longer. People with the condition typically snore between those episodes, then gasp or choke when they begin breathing again.

    Bigger, heavier people are more likely to have sleep apnea, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Fat tissue around the neck and throat puts pressure on the airway, shrinking the passage.

    Many patients are able to control the disorder by simply losing weight, changing sleeping positions or avoiding alcohol, tobacco and sedatives. Others try mouth appliances or a machine dubbed CPAP, for continuous positive airway pressure. The patient wears a sealed mask that fits over the nose and pumps air through the nasal passages, preventing the throat muscles from collapsing.

    A recent study found that sleep apnea induces stress, which can raise the risk of hypertension.

    "We found that there's evidence of sleep apnea and high-blood pressure both in younger and older individuals, both in men and women, and both in whites, African-Americans, native Americans and other groups," said Dr. F. Javier Nieto of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, in Baltimore, Maryland.

    Other investigators found that about one third of nearly 72,000 nurses who regularly snored were at a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease, compared with those who did not snore. That study, reported in the February 2000 issue of the Journal of the American College or Cardiology, factored out other heart disease risks, including smoking, weight and age.

    CNN Medical Correspondent Linda Ciampa contributed to this report.



    RELATED STORIES:
    Sleep deprivation as bad as alcohol impairment, study suggests
    September 20, 2000
    Researchers find link between sleep quality, weight gain in older men
    August 16, 2000
    Study links snoring to hypertension
    April 11, 2000
    Snoring may be sound of a serious sleep disorder
    March 29, 2000
    Drowsiness takes toll on motorists like alcohol, sleep experts say
    March 28, 2000
    Sleeping Conditions

    RELATED SITES:
    National Sleep Foundation
    ASAA-American Sleep Apnea Association
    The School of Sleep Medicine
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