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How Sleep Apnea Can Devastate a Body

An estimated 30 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, yet as many as 80 percent aren’t even aware they have the condition.

For this reason, the American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA) was founded in 1990 under the belief that the only person who can truly understand the nuances related to sleep apnea, and offer the proper support for a person who has the condition, is another person who also has sleep apnea.

“The mission of the ASAA is to improve the lives of those affected by sleep apnea, and lead the search for the elimination of this syndrome in future generations,” said ASAA’s chief strategy officer Gilles Frydman, who — like the rest of ASAA’s board of directors and executive leadership — has sleep apnea. 

Frydman had extremely high blood pressure for many years that wouldn’t respond to conventional treatments; that is, until he was diagnosed with and started receiving treatment for sleep apnea.

“They ran all the tests and found that my kidneys were fine, my heart was fine … they couldn’t be the answer for why I had high blood pressure,” Frydman said, “but sleep apnea could be.”

About sleep apnea

There are three major types of sleep apnea: obstructive (in which the airway is blocked during sleep), central (where the brain fails to signal the body to breathe during sleep), and mixed, which is a combination of the two. 

The most common sign of sleep apnea is snoring, but the health risks run far beyond this minor annoyance. “Someone with sleep apnea, they’re being depleted of all that precious oxygen that should be going to tissues all throughout the entire body,” said Theresa Shumard, board member and community & education manager at ASAA. “So what is that doing over years of having this condition? It’s affecting so many systems in the body.”

Sleep apnea can cause (or is at least related to) diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, memory problems, impotence, and headaches.

“Anybody who snores should be checked to see if they have sleep apnea,” Frydman said. “Anybody who snores, has diabetes, and is overweight should absolutely be tested for it.”

That being said, sleep apnea can affect anyone in any demographic, not just overweight, middle-age men. In fact, 6-8 percent of children have sleep apnea.

“Many of those children will be diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), when in fact it’s not ADHD they have — it’s sleep apnea,” Frydman said.

Managing sleep apnea

The tried-and-true method for managing sleep apnea is using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which flows air into the user’s throat while they sleep, keeping their airway from collapsing.

In the past, properly diagnosing sleep apnea and prescribing a CPAP machine required patients to spend a night in a hospital to have their sleep studied. While in-person sleep studies are still considered the “gold standard” for evaluating sleep apnea, home tests are a viable alternative that have come onto the marketplace in recent years, offering a more convenient and inexpensive alternative.

For anyone with sleep apnea who feels their quality of sleep has gotten worse, whether it’s been over the past year as a result of the pandemic or otherwise, Frydman and Shumard agreed on a singular piece of advice:“If you are a CPAP user, wear your machine. Use it!” Shumard said. “You don’t need to go without the treatment. Use your machine.”


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