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Sleep Apnea: The Undiagnosed Tragedy

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most undiagnosed sleep disorder in the country, affecting about 20 million Americans. It is also a contributor to diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. This is my story.

About ten years ago my wife kicked me out of bed. No, it wasn’t what you think (well not mostly), it was because she couldn’t stand the snoring. We would go to bed and within minutes I was snoring so loudly that she simply couldn’t get to sleep. So, she put me out on the couch in the living room, but even that wasn’t far enough away.

After awhile she noticed that the snoring would stop periodically and she was curious to see if maybe I was sleeping in a different position or what so she checked me out and noticed that during the periods when I stopped snoring I also wasn’t breathing. I was working very hard, chest pumping, to try and breathe, but I couldn’t get any air. Then I would gasp, take a few deep breaths and go back to snoring. She looked into it and decided that I should go into the doctor to ask about sleep apnea.

I looked into it a little bit and decided that she was out of her mind. I didn’t feel sleepy during the day, my stomach felt fine and I wasn’t undergoing any personality changes. The fact was that I was wrong on all of those counts, but the changes in my personality kept me from seeing it.

So, I ignored it for over four years, with my mental and physical condition gradually deteriorating the whole time. I became extremely irritable, I had trouble remembering things and I was not a pleasant person to be around. In addition to the personality changes, I experienced daytime sleepiness, stomach upset and other digestive problems.

Finally, my wife had had enough. She told me to go in for the sleep study or there were going to be consequences. That got through to me. I’m not exactly sure what the consequences would have been, but I’m pretty sure that they would have been dire. I went in for the sleep study and they checked it out. I had sleep apnea. Whatever. I had satisfied the condition of going in for the initial sleep study, so I didn’t need to do anything else or so I thought.

My condition continued to get worse, but I didn’t do anything about it for over a year. Finally, I had what alcoholics call a “moment of clarity” and went back in for the second sleep study. During the second sleep study, after hooking me up to what seems like four-hundred fifty seven wires, they put this mask thing over my nose that blew air. It made me very uncomfortable at first, but I did get used to it.

I never thought I’d get to sleep, but I did. I woke up the next morning stiff and sore, but I felt pretty good otherwise. I asked the nurse why I felt so sore and she took me into the control room and showed me the tape of myself sleeping. I didn’t move. I lay there like I was dead. As an added bonus, there was no snoring.

Finally, I was ready to know the whole story and figure out what to do next. I sat down with the doctor and asked him several questions.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is also known as obstructive sleep apnea. This condition (it is not a disease) is caused when the muscles of the throat are not sufficient to keep the airway open. There are many factors that can lead to this condition, but the primary ones are weight gain, excessive alcohol use and age. Older, obese men seem to be more likely to have sleep apnea, but it can occur in anyone at any age or weight. Some abnormalities in the palate, throat or tongue can also cause sleep apnea.

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  1. Wonderful article!
    My ex husband was having alot of trouble with snoring while sleeping, he finally went in as you did and got the same
    diagnosis. He also has the face mask thingy that literally is a
    life saver for him. It’s hard to imagine that snoring is not
    just a huge annoyance for sleeping partner, in your case your wife. It can be deadly and does need to be addressed and checked out. I’m so glad you went and now know how important sleep apnea needs to be checked out when you have these symptoms, the special apparatus to sleep with is a life saver for many! I hope your article is read by many!

    Best of wishes to you, and your wife.
    francie(:

  2. I’m 46 and have had a CPAP for 15 years.
    When I don’t use it, I sleep late,
    am slow-rising in the morning and,
    after several days, sleepy during the day.
    When I do use it, I wake like a lightbulb
    at 6 or 6:30am with IQ and creativity
    much higher that day.

    mark

  3. Your bogus, devisive, derivative polemic has no place here.

    Unhelpful.

    My health insurance pays for 80% of my coverage and I work for a socially minded non-profit company. So cram your political statements. That all being said I look forward to my cpap. Hows that for facts rather than rehashed bloviation?

  4. Brandon,
    Your article is great! I also have sleep apnea and was prescribed the C-pap machine. My whole family snores (lol) but, it wasn’t until I started fainting at the wheel that I was tested and diagnosed. I wore it a few times to bed, and “thought” it was a waste but, after doing without it for a while, I finally put it on again after reading your article and slept all night. Normally, I wake 3 and 4 times a night. Even after I was told the benefits of using my machine I was being stubborn. I promise you, I slept so good last night (7-24-07) after reading your article and I will be using it forever. Afterall, no sense wasting my money, I did pay for it (with insurance). I’m not sure if you mentioned it in your article but, also…for those who snore and often wake with headaches…I was told, that while snoring, oxygen isn’t flowing properly in the brain and that is what causes the waking headaches….I enjoyed your article, THANKS!

    GiftedOne2

  5. To GiftedOne2

    I am so glad that you decided to try again and I am even more pleased that it worked for you! If this article helps one person and that person helps another then it was worth it.

    Please look forward to other articles in this vein in the future, sleep apnea is something about which I am very passionate.

    Thank you for your kind words and I’m glad it helped you!

    Brandon

  6. Great article! I hope, next time, you’d also write on how wives like me could convince our husbands to get the help they need – or lose weight, at least.

  7. I, too, have a loved one with sleep apnea that the medical establishment was unable to diagnose or treat for years and years, but we were fortunate enough to find a dentist who knew about a device that could be fitted in his office in just a few minutes which might help. We went home with it and for the first night in over 30 years I was able to sleep without a) being awakened by the loud snoring and/or kicking, and b) then having to lie awake counting the seconds until he breathed again.

    After wearing the device for a month, his blood pressure went down and his general health was obviously better than it had been in decades. That happened quite a few years ago, and now they have devices that are even smaller and less expensive that can be fitted right at home. Once such device is the Somni Snore Guard which is available online from several companies and costs around $70 USD. This might not be as effective as CPAP for some who have sleep apnea, but the Somni was like a miracle in our household.

  8. To Beatrice,

    Thank you so much. Actually, that is on the list of things to do!

  9. Ex-Navy Brandon Kumm?

  10. Roger that, Toombs. Ah, Charleston.

  11. I love stories with happy endings. My husband snores like a freight train, and works in a doctor’s office, but will not get tested. I am so glad that others have the sense to be treated. Someone needs to do an article on sleep deprivation experienced by spouses. Lol Good job.

  12. I am 44 years old. I have been waking up feeling as tired as I was when I go to bed and I could not remember anything. I have felt this way since I was approx 17 years old. I always worked out and was always in great shape and very active. I thought that I was tired due to my active life style and I had memory loss for so long thought that it was the norm for me. I told doctors about the fact that I am always tired and could not remember and the doctors would take one look at me and they would say that they wished they could look as healthy as me. Perhaps if I did not work out or was not into activities that made me look physically fit, they may have taken me more seriously. Approxamately 5 years ago, I was suffering from chest pain which woke me at about 2 AM. I went to the hospital and was thankfully not having a heart attack, but I had under gone extensive testing that uncovered an aortic anurysum in my chest heart arythmia and high blood preassure. I have been seeing a cardiologist ever since and have been on blood preassure medication ever since. I continued to see general and family doctors and when I would see the doctors, I would mention how tired I would feel no matter how much sleep I had.
    I had a neck fusion and when I awoke I had the energy level of a child and my memory had come back. I thought that all this was due to my neck surgery, but I was back to the way I was prior to the surgery. I once again was tired, had loss of memory, I was irritable, and had heart arythmias. After several years more of living with this condition I had steadily gotten worse. I am an electrical contractor and was having trouble remembering things that was second nature.
    I seen my primary doctor because my arythmia would last all night and sometimes all day. I explained to my doctor that I am extremely tired and I am now having difficulty funtioning, I have aniety and I am irritable to the point that I get very short with peoply including my family. I told the doctor that I did not want to be the person who is short fused with his family or freinds and that I was there for help. The doctor sugested that I take Xanex, because she thought my being tired, heart arythmia, anxiety may have been due to stress. I explained to the doctor that I did not want to take a narcotic that might just mask the symptoms and cause additional issues or worsen my existing condition. The doctor gave me a referral to see my cardiologist and one to see a pulminary doctor. The pulminary doctor could not see me for about 3 weeks and the cardiologist could not see me for about one week. I was not sure if my condition was being caused by my heart or by a sleeping disorder. I did see the cardiologist first and the cardiologist prescribed a heart monitor for 24 hrs. The cardiologist said the results would be read by that Friday after I had returned the monitor on that Tuesday. The cardilogist said that I had a arythmia for 30 minuites and that it was a concern to the cardiollogist. The cardiologist prescribed Toporal. The nurse told me that this medication would regulate my heart and would make me tired and may slow my heart reate down to about 40 beats per minuite, may made me dizzy and that I should not drive a car. I explained to the nurse that I was already tired, I have already fallen asleep while waiting for a traffic light to turn green with my family in the car and that I have 3 children that rely on me and that I could not afford to be any more tired than I was already. The nurse said that the doctor ordered the medication and that I would need to take it. I was at a point where I could not function. It took every ounce of enrgy that I had to research Toporal, and after finding that once I took Toporal, I would have to take Toporal for the rest of my life. That was all it took for me to research this drug and this research led me to sleep apnea and how sleep apnea may cause the very symptoms that I have such as high blood preasure, heart arythmias, irritability, and memory loss. That was when I contacted the pulminary doctor and explained the doctors office what I had discoved. I told the pulminary doctors office that I wanted to be seen ASAP and I told them that I may not live long enough to see them for the original appoinment which would have been at this point about 2 weeks. The doctors office told me that they had no openings and I begged them to see me and the girl said she would talk with the doctor and she would call me back. She did not call me back that day or even the following day. I called the doctors office and advised the girl that I needed to be seen and she advised me that she had not seen the doctor yet. The girl admitted that the doctor had been in, but she did not have a chance to speak with whim. I explained once again how important it was for me to be seen. She said she would talk to him and call me back. She called me back and said that the doctor is completely booked and that I would need to keep my original appointment. I received a call form the girl about 4 or 5 days later and was advised that I can be seen due to cancellation. I went to see the doctor. I fell asleep while waiting to be seen. The doctor said that I needed an emergency sleep study and advised his front desk that they need to schedule an appointment ASAP. Its been 5 days since I was supposed to have an emergency sleep study. I have been talking with freinds and family about my condition. I was advised by an aquaintance that if I sleep on my stomach, I may notice that have more energy with in several days. I have been sleeping on my stomach for the last 4 days and today I felt energetic. I am still going to have the sleep study done and I am looking forward to it. I just can’t imagine that this was all due to a sleep disorder that had gone un diagnosed for so long. I am looking forward to the treatment, but at the same time I can’t help woundering if maybe I could have been further along in my life or more sucessfull. I can’t help woundering if I would have been more understanding and more helpfull to others if I was not contantly irritable. So much time waited in what I felt was like a fog and at times a rage.
    I now want everyone to know my story. I hope this helps some of the doctors out there and that if they help one person, they are helping many at the same time.

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