Sleep apnoea: The symptoms, risks and how to treat it - here is everything you need to know

It is estimated that about 1.5 million people in the UK suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea
It is estimated that about 1.5 million people in the UK suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea
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It is estimated that about 1.5 million people in the UK suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea, with many people completely unaware that they have the condition.

Here we explain what the condition is, what the causes are and what you can do if you think you suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea.

What is obstructive sleep apnoea?

Sleep apnoea or obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a common condition where normal breathing is interrupted when the walls of the throat relax and narrow during sleep.

What are the risks associated with sleep apnoea?

The condition may lead to regularly interrupted sleep, which can have a big impact on quality of life and increases the risk of developing certain conditions.

The condition can also increase your risk of developing high blood pressure (hypertension), having a stroke or heart attack, developing an irregular heartbeat and type 2 diabetes.

Could I be at risk?

Obstructive sleep apnoea is more likely to affect men than women and can happen at any age, although in the UK it's most common in people aged between 30 and 60.

What can causes sleep apnoea?

You’re more likely to have sleep apnoea if you:

• are obese
• have a large neck size – (more than 43cm circumference)
• have close relatives with sleep apnoea
• smoke
• drink alcohol to excess, especially in the evenings
• use sedatives
• sleep on your back
• suffer with an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), acromegaly, Down's syndrome and other conditions that affect your jaw, nose, tongue or airway.

What are the symptoms of sleep apnoea?

The main symptoms of obstructive sleep apnoea, include; excessive sleepiness during the day, snoring, frequent pauses in breathing or choking noises when you’re asleep, getting up at night to urinate more than normal, feeling unrefreshed when you wake up and having a headache, or possibly a sore throat or dry mouth when you wake up.

Can it be treated?

While surgery may be needed in some cases, the good news is that there are things you can do to help prevent or ease the condition.

Lifestyle changes such as losing excess weight, reducing your alcohol intake and sleeping on your side can all have a positive impact on the condition.

If lifestyle changes are unsuccessful, there are a number of oral devices you can try, such as:

• Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device – devices like these prevent the airway from closing while you sleep by delivering a continuous supply of compressed air through a mask.

• Mandibular advancement device (MAD) – the gum shield-like device fits around your teeth, holding your jaw and tongue forward to increase the space at the back of your throat while you sleep.