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Image: Sleep apnea: A quiet epidemic

Sleep apnea: A quiet epidemic

Yes, snoring is annoying. But did you know that it could also be a sign of something potentially deadly?

By Mustafa Ucer, MD
December 12, 2017

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Do you and your mate take turns throwing pillows throughout the night to stop each other’s snoring? You both could have sleep apnea.

It’s easy for people to be in denial or not want to do anything about sleep apnea. But getting treatment could be life-changing.

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder. It happens when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep. Sometimes it happens hundreds of times in a single night. And that means the brain — and the rest of the body – may not get enough oxygen. Sleep apnea is linked to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, blood pressure issues, weight gain, memory issues and excessive daytime sleepiness.

Sleep apnea is growing like an epidemic. It’s estimated that more than 18 million Americans have it, and as many as 80 percent of those people may be undiagnosed. While its symptoms can range from annoying to potentially dangerous, the impact of untreated sleep apnea on your overall health can be serious and even deadly.

Sleep apnea symptoms include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Daytime tiredness
  • Frequent napping
  • Frequent awakenings
  • Morning headaches
  • Frequent nighttime urination
  • Restless sleeping

Treatment for sleep apnea

Making lifestyle changes such as losing weight, eating healthier, exercising more, quitting smoking or drinking less, can lessen symptoms. However, it’s kind of a catch-22 situation. People often find they have the energy to make those changes only after they’re able to get a good night’s sleep for the first time in years.

That’s where treatment comes in. Help for sleep apnea starts with a visit to your primary care doctor. He or she can refer you to a specialist for a sleep study. Our organization offers these assessments at:

After the sleep study, you’ll receive a treatment plan that commonly involves one or more of these:

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This is most common for moderate to severe sleep apnea. The CPAP machine gently blows air into your mouth during sleep to help keep your airway open.
  • A mouthpiece. This is best for mild sleep apnea. The mouthpiece is custom-fit and can help adjust your lower jaw and tongue to keep your airway open while you sleep.
  • Surgery. Surgical treatments widen the breathing passages. Depending on the severity of your sleep apnea, surgery may not eliminate symptoms entirely. Surgery is usually a last resort treatment.

Patients report that when they use their treatment plan each night, they feel more alert during the day, have improved mood and better memory. And CPAP therapy has been shown to prevent and even reverse the serious health problems that are linked to sleep apnea.

About Mustafa Ucer, MD

Dr. Mustafa Ucer is medical director of the Lakeview Sleep Health Center. He also practices at HealthPartners Central Minnesota Clinic, Regions Hospital Sleep Health Center and in the Lung & Sleep Health Department at HealthPartners Specialty Center. He’s a neurologist by background and is deeply intrigued by how the brain works. Dr. Ucer chose sleep medicine as his subspecialty because he’s fascinated by how sleep disorders impact overall health. He says he finds it very rewarding to help fix people’s sleep problems so they can get a good night’s sleep and feel better. Dr. Ucer was born in Chisago City, Minn. but grew up in Turkey. He speaks Turkish, German and Italian. He loves to learn and, when he’s not working, Dr. Ucer can be found reading everything about anything. He also plays the guitar and the saz, a Turkish instrument. And he loves playing soccer, basketball and otherwise spending time with his two sons, Kaan and Hakan.

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