THE BLOG
08/28/2014 08:04 am ET Updated Oct 28, 2014

Stop the Snore: 5 Risk Factors That May Require You to Talk About Sleep Apnea With Your Doctor

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) -- a potentially life-threatening disease involving episodes of complete or partial airway obstruction during sleep -- is dangerously on the rise. The disease afflicts at least 25 million American adults, and most of them remain untreated, increasing their risk of cardiac disease, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Fortunately, many of the damaging effects of sleep apnea can be stopped, and even reversed, through diagnosis and treatment. It's critical that anyone with risk factors or symptoms of OSA pledge to stop the snore and talk to a doctor about sleep apnea. How do you know if that includes you or a family member? Here are five warning signs:

  • Snoring. Besides being a nuisance to your bed partner or roommate, loud and frequent snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea. While not everyone who snores has this sleep illness, snoring is a warning sign that should be taken seriously.
  • Choking or gasping during sleep. When snoring is paired with choking, gasping or silent breathing pauses during sleep, it's a strong indicator of sleep apnea.
  • Fatigue or daytime sleepiness. Sleep apnea can leave you waking in the morning feeling tired, even after a full night's sleep. Excessive daytime sleepiness often occurs because sleep apnea causes numerous arousals throughout the night, and your body isn't getting the quality sleep it needs.
  • Obesity. An adult with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher is considered to be obese, and the risk of sleep apnea increases with the amount of excess body weight.
  • High blood pressure. A staggering 67 million Americans have high blood pressure, which is about one in every three adults. Between 30 and 40 percent of adults with high blood pressure also have sleep apnea, and getting treatment for sleep apnea is a proven means of decreasing blood pressure.

If two or more of these signs and symptoms describe you, then you have a high risk for OSA and should talk to a doctor about sleep apnea. To find a local sleep specialist at an AASM-accredited sleep center, visit stopsnoringpledge.org.

After speaking with your doctor, he or she may decide you need an objective sleep study, which will provide the data needed to make an accurate diagnosis. Once diagnosed, the most commonly recommended treatment for sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which provides gently pressurized air through a mask, keeping your airway open and making it easier to breathe. For patients who are unable to tolerate CPAP, or who seek alternatives, knowledgeable sleep specialists may be able to offer other treatments.

For more information or to pledge to stop the snore and talk to a doctor about sleep apnea, visit projecthealthysleep.org.