Treatment For Sleep Apnea Can Be Life-Changing
Many success stories at Genesis sleep centers
Sleep apnea patient Steve Johnson, left, of
Clinton learns about the different masks
used for continuous positive airway pressure
treatment at an appointment with sleep
specialist Akshay Mahadevia, M.D. Johnson was
diagnosed at the Genesis Sleep Disorders Center
Steven Johnson would fall asleep in the chair while receiving chemotherapy,
only to have the nurses wake him because he would briefly stop breathing.
Johnson suspected he had sleep apnea, but at the time, he had more immediate
health concerns: He was fighting to survive Stage 4 lymphoma. Treatment for
sleep apnea didn’t seem a high priority.
“The cancer medications would put me to sleep. I would stop breathing for a
few seconds, and the nurses would wake me up. They timed me at 35 seconds
between breaths,” says Johnson of Clinton, Iowa.
Last October, with his cancer in remission and a desire to improve his
health, Johnson decided to address his sleep problem. He went for an overnight
sleep study at the Genesis Sleep Disorders Center in Davenport, where he slept
in a newly remodeled room on a comfortable Sleep Number bed.
After 1 hour and 22 minutes of monitored sleep, staff awoke him to confirm
that sleep apnea had interrupted his sleep 42 times. He was put on a continuous
positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine for the rest of the night, and a
titration study was begun to determine the optimal air pressure he would need.
“I had the remaining five hours of sleep on the CPAP machine and woke up
feeling much better,” Johnson says.
“Now, I use a CPAP machine at home every night. I wake up easily in the
morning and feel more energetic. I no longer take naps after work or fall asleep
in the chair on weekends. The difference has been life-changing. I feel so much
Uncovering Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat
relax and momentarily close off the airways.This lowers the level of oxygen in
the blood. The brain senses this decrease and briefly rouses the person from
sleep so the airways reopen.
This awakening is usually so brief that a person doesn’t remember it.
Breathing resumes, possibly with a snort. This pattern can repeat itself 10
times or more each hour all night, making it difficult to reach the deep,
restful phases of sleep.
That combination of disturbed sleep and lack of oxygen leads to serious
health complications -- from high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke to
depression and memory problems. The disorder affects more than 18 million
Americans and frequently goes undiagnosed.
Now, Johnson wishes he had been tested sooner. “Going through the sleep test
was easy, and so is using a CPAP machine,” he says.
Recently, he came in for a follow-up appointment with sleep specialist Akshay
Mahadevia, M.D., who wasn’t surprised to hear his patient’s happy report.
The CPAP machine has a mask that fits over the nose and/or mouth and gently
blows air into the airway to help keep it open during sleep.
“Many patients like Steve come back to say that CPAP treatment has made a
night and day difference or that their whole life has changed,” says Dr.
Mahadevia, a pulmonologist and board-certified sleep specialist. “There are
tangible benefits, where Steve can actually feel more energy. There are also the
intangible benefits he doesn’t feel, like improving his cardiovascular health.”
Sleep apnea decreases oxygen levels, elevates blood pressure and increases
circulatory problems that can cause stroke or heart disease.
“If you think you have sleep apnea -- if you snore very loud, if you have no
energy, if you’re falling asleep when you shouldn’t -- it’s a good idea to get
it checked out for two reasons,” Dr. Mahadevia says.
“First, we have more treatment options than we did two decades ago and can
successfully treat over 90 percent of people with sleep apnea. Second, research
clearly shows that sleep apnea affects your cardiovascular system... your
memory... your neurological function. There’s a connection between sleep apnea
and heart failure and arrhythmia. We know sleep apnea affects blood sugar and
diabetes. It’s so much more than snoring or feeling tired. There are serious
CPAP therapy has many benefits but compliance is important. Patients who have
problems adjusting to their CPAP machine should ask for assistance.
“A lot of times, it takes education and persistence,” Dr. Mahadevia says.
“People may try one mask and not like it, so they put it away in a closet. We
can find an alternative to help if they say, ‘I don’t like this mask, but what
else can I do to make my apnea better?’“
Sleep apnea is reversible and often connected with being overweight. “Once
you treat their sleep apnea, people have more energy and lose weight. I have
quite a few patients who lost 50, 60, 70 pounds, and their apnea improved to the
point they didn’t need to use the CPAP anymore.”
Johnson concludes: “After you survive cancer, you look for opportunities that
create positives rather than negatives in your life. The rewards of treating my
sleep apnea have been well worth it.”