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Marian Mackay

What is sleep apnoea?

Sleep apnoea affects approximately 2-4% of the population. In some studies, it was found to be as high as 24% in middle-aged men and about 9% in women1.

Other studies say approximately 775,000 people suffer from the effects of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) or 4.7% of the Australian population.2  These numbers account for diagnosed cases, thus meaning undiagnosed cases may be higher!

range of sleep disordered breathing

Sleep apnoea is more than just snoring or feeling sleepy through the day. It is a potentially life-threatening disorder where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. Check out this video to find out the difference between snoring and sleep apnoea:

Sleep apnoea is caused due to poor breathing wherein less oxygen is circulated through the body. This causes the brain to wake up to allow breathing, which interrupts sleep. The disruption of sleep not only affects the brain’s resting phase but also causes less oxygenation of various organs of the body. If left untreated, the average life expectancy of an overweight, severe OSA adult has been shown to be less than 10 years from onset. Further, the sufferer is also eight times more likely to be involved in an automobile accident - due to micro-sleeping behind the wheel, which is caused by excessive tiredness.

Systemic effects of OSA may include:

  • Stroke
  • Heart disease - heart attack
  • Arrhythmia
  • Congestive heart failure
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • GERD
  • Depression
  • Poor quality of life3

It is noteworthy that deaths due to heart diseases and diabetes fall amongst the top 10 causes of death4. This only increases the importance of avoiding heart conditions, hypertension and diabetes mellitus.

It is recommended sleep apnoea be identified early and its progression is stopped so as to avoid the more serious health problems.

snoring assessment

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1. Anaesthesiology. 2006 May;104(5):1081-93; quiz 1117-8. Practice guidelines for the perioperative management of patients with obstructive sleep apnea: a report by the American Society of Anaesthesiologists Task Force on Perioperative Management of patients with obstructive sleep apnea.

2. Re-awakening Australia – The economic Cost of Sleep Disorders in Australia, 2010

3. 33% mortality rate associated with Moderate to Severe OSA compared to 7.7 % and 6 % mortality rate for mild or no OSA. (Australian Busselton Cohort Study)
J Clin Sleep Med. 2014 Apr 15;10(4):355-62. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.3600. Sleep apnea and 20-year follow-up for all-cause mortality, stroke, and cancer incidence and mortality in the Busselton Health Study cohort. 

4. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Causes of death 2015.

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