Latino In America
Millions of Hispanics at Risk for This Serious Sleep Problem

By Camilo Ruiz, DO

Did you know that up to 14 percent of Hispanic men and 6 percent of Hispanic women could have obstructive sleep apnea, according to the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos? Obstructive sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening disease involving episodes of complete or partial airway obstruction during sleep. This is bad news, as research shows that sleep apnea is related to increased risk of heart disease, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and depression.

The study also shows that Hispanics in the U.S. with sleep apnea have a 40 percent higher chance of hypertension, a 50 percent higher odds of impaired glucose tolerance and a 90 percent higher risk of diabetes. This is compounded by the high levels of obesity and diabetes already prevalent among Hispanics.

While excess body weight is the leading risk factor for sleep apnea, a common misconception is that sleep apnea only affects older, overweight men. This widely-held assumption is wrong: anyone can have sleep apnea, regardless of gender, age or body type – even if you’re not overweight.

Fortunately, many of the damaging effects of sleep apnea can be stopped, and even reversed, through diagnosis and treatment by a sleep doctor.

Here are five warning signs for sleep apnea:

• Snoring. Besides being a nuisance to your bed partner or roommate, loud and frequent snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea. While not everyone who snores has this sleep disease, snoring is a warning sign that should be taken seriously.

• Choking or gasping during sleep. When snoring is paired with choking, gasping or silent breathing pauses during sleep, it’s a strong indicator of sleep apnea.

• Fatigue or daytime sleepiness. Sleep apnea can leave you waking in the morning feeling tired, even after a full night’s sleep. Excessive daytime sleepiness often occurs because sleep apnea causes numerous arousals throughout the night, and your body isn’t getting the quality sleep it needs.

• Obesity. An adult with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher is considered to be obese, and the risk of sleep apnea increases with the amount of excess body weight.

• High blood pressure. A staggering 70 million Americans have high blood pressure, which is about one in every three adults. Between 30 and 40 percent of adults with high blood pressure also have sleep apnea, and getting treatment for sleep apnea is a proven means of decreasing blood pressure.

If these symptoms describe you or someone you know, then there is a high risk for sleep apnea.

Your doctor may decide you need an objective sleep study, which will provide the data needed to make an accurate diagnosis. Once diagnosed, the most commonly recommended treatment for sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which provides gently pressurized air through a mask, keeping your airway open and making it easier to breathe.

For patients who are unable to tolerate CPAP, or who seek alternatives, knowledgeable sleep doctors can discuss other treatment options.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a chronic disease that has a negative impact on the health and well-being of millions of Hispanics in the U.S. If you or a family member is at risk, it is important to discuss the warning signs for sleep apnea. The National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project encourages you to pledge to “Dejar de Roncar” – or “Stop the Snore” – and talk to a doctor about sleep apnea. Visit www.dejarderoncar.us to make the pledge today.

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