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Sleep Apnea Linked To Increase In Fatal Cancer
Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder in which the airway becomes narrowed or closed during the sleeping process. Incidents can be for longer than one minute without breathing and can occur hundreds of times during the sleeping period. This causes a depletion of oxygen in the blood stream, a restless night and many other health concerns.
A study released on September 11, 2012 at the European Respiratory Society congress in Vienna, Austria found that people with sleep apnea could be twice as likely to die of cancer as those who sleep soundly. The largest study of its kind, with more than 5,600 patients in seven sleep clinics, found that sufferers with the highest oxygen deprivation (desaturation) were at the greatest risk.
The incidence of cancer is likely related to the continuous lack of oxygen to the brain and body night after night. Severe cases can have oxygen desaturation levels lower than 70%. Considering the healthy human saturation level remains above 95% at all times makes this a serious concern. None of the participants had cancer before the study. The study followed them for seven years, finding that patients with oxygen desaturation levels below 90% for more than 14% of their sleep cycle were twice as likely to get cancer as those without sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea, already linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, daytime fatigue and high blood pressure, has also made recent headlines in Time magazine (July 9, 2012) for its inexplicable link to nightmares and PTSD in veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars. Dr. Barry Krakow with the Maimonides International Nightmare Treatment Center in New Mexico has been studying the links between apnea and nightmares in veterans. He found that “at least 90% of patients who went to him with persistent nightmares had either full-blown sleep apneaor a milder form of the disorder called upper-airway-resistance syndrome.”
His belief is that the nightmares are a way for the mind to stimulate the body from REM sleep so that it can be aroused enough to recognize the airway has collapsed, causing the sufferer to gasp for air, temporarily arresting the apneatic event.
As the obesity rate continues to increase throughout America, so does the rate of those affected by sleep apnea. Besides a person's weight, other factors to look for that might be signs you have greater risk of suffering from sleep apnea include neck size (>17 for men; >14 for women), constant fatigue, snoring, and periods of non-breathing while asleep.
If you think you might have sleep apnea, there is hope. Several solutions are available to reduce the risks associated with sleep apnea. The most prevalent is a CPAP machine. CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Air Pressure. These machines look like a smallish vacuum cleaner with an adapter at the end of the hose, which allows a mask to be strapped to your face. These machines, while cumbersome, uncomfortable and impractical when traveling are often times the best defense for sleep apnea. The continuous forced air keeps the airway from collapsing during sleep. Unfortunately the compliance rate with those prescribed CPAP machines by their doctors is low.
Another alternative is an oral appliance. These custom fitted, small mouth pieces are made by specific dentists who have been trained in sleep therapy. The appliances adjust the lower jaw forward and open the bite while the person is sleeping. This provides maximum airway clearance which also reduces the likelihood of snoring and apneatic events. To find a dentist near you that provides these services, go to SleepTest.com and enter your zip code.
Thankfully medical insurance helps pays for both therapies. To find out if you have sleep apnea or any other sleep disorders you should have a sleep study done. You can go to a sleep center where you will be required to sleep in a lab overnight or you can take a sleep study device home with you, provided you go to a doctor equipped with home study equipment. Again, www.sleeptest.com can help you locate a home sleep test provider as well.