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Take it to Heart: Three ways to help relieve sleep apnea

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Dr. Courtney Virgilio is a cardiologist with Fox Valley Cardiovascular Consultants with offices in Aurora and Yorkville. | Submitted by Rush-Copley

Updated: March 16, 2012 8:06AM

For most people snoring is not a medical problem, but for some, constant snoring may indicate a serious sleep disorder.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when airflow pauses or decreases during breathing while you sleep, because the airway has become narrowed or blocked.

Sleep apnea heightens a person’s risk of hypertension, diabetes and heart attacks, because of the stress that the apneic episodes place on the cardiovascular system.

The amount of time someone with sleep apnea stops breathing can be from 10 seconds to greater than a minute or more.

The stops can occur a couple of times in an hour, or as many as 100 times per hour.

When breathing stops, a person’s oxygen level can significantly drop and affect the heart, blood pressure and brain.

This takes sleep from a restful state, for which sleep is intended, to a stressful one.

Obstructive sleep apnea can develop in anyone at any age, but most often occurs in people who are overweight, male, age 40 or older, or smokers.

Ways to fix it

If you have sleep apnea, here are three changes that might help relieve your symptoms:

Avoid alcohol or sedatives at bedtime — These can make sleep apnea symptoms worse.

Don’t sleep on your back — Some people who suffer from mild cases of sleep apnea only experience apnea when they sleep on their back. Try lying on your side in bed.

Lose weight — Losing weight can help decrease the frequency of apneic episodes.

If that doesn’t work

If you suspect you have sleep apnea, it is important to consult your physician about a sleep study screening to determine the best course of treatment.

If you have high blood pressure or chest pain, it is importance to consult your physician for evaluation and treatment of these conditions to minimize your risk of heart disease.

Dr. Courtney Virgilio is a cardiologist with Fox Valley Cardiovascular Consultants with offices in Aurora and Yorkville. Health Matters is courtesy of Rush-Copley Medical Center

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