Sleep apnea: A silent killer

05_0755HERE’S YOUR SIGN  — Gabby Beaman, on the left, and Jozzlin Jansen hold the sign that is in the front window of The Independent-Observer letting everyone know that The I-O will be closed on Friday at noon for the Memorial Day holiday. The crew will be back to work on Tuesday. Due to the holiday, The I-O will be mailed on Thursday instead of its normal Wednesday time. We hope that everyone has a safe holiday and we’ll see you next week!  I-O Photo by Barb Endler




By Buck Traxler, I-O Editor

It can take anyone, it is not just an old person’s ailment.

The day after Christmas in 2004, the nation was shocked to learn of the sudden passing of Reggie White.

He was only 43 years old at the time and was a Hall of Fame defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers.

White was a two time Defensive Player of the Year and for 13 straight years had been named to the football All Star team.

When he retired from play in 2000, he held the record for quarterback sacks with 198.

And while it wasn’t apparent, he was known to be having respiratory problems and after an autopsy, it was noted that Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) was a contributing factor to his death. Sleep what?

While sleep apnea may have closed the door on White, it also opened the door to the problems of sleep apnea where it is known that 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea but more than 90 percent of them remain undiagnosed.

What exactly is OSA? The muscles that stiffen and open the throat tend to relax during sleep and leads to a slight narrowing of the throat.

For people with OSA, this narrowing of the throat passage becomes difficult, as if they were breathing through a floppy, wet straw. Eventually, this increased effort awakens the brains, which signals the throat muscles to become active again and breathing becomes easier. With the breathing passage once more open, the effort to breath decreases and the person goes back to sleep.

Some of the consequences of OSA include high blood pressure, heart attack or heart failure, stroke, and Diabetes.

Help for OSA comes in the form of Continuous Positive Air Pressure, better than in its shortened acronym, CPAP.

The system in which a portable pump and mask use pressure to hold the air ways open. This is about the most effective way to treat OSA.

Air is pushed through your airway and the pressure pushes sagging tissue aide.

This widens the airway so you may breathe better.

Just ask George Tornga. He was diagnosed with OSA and has been on a CPAP since 2001.

Tornga told The I-O, “Oh man, I didn’t have the energy to do anything, I used to just sit in a chair. I swear by it and can’t sleep without it.”

When he travels, his unit goes with him, “it isn’t that hard to set up, I even take it on the train.”

Originally he went through a sleep study program in Great Falls, however, a complete sleep study program for OSA can be done at the Pondera Medical Center.

Renne Salois, RT is the department manager and John Carlbom, EMT is the sleep lab coordinator and technician.

The PMC, for some time now, has a room dedicated for sleep studies only. With a comfortable new décor, a brand new Tempur pedic bed and a new flat screen TV, the state of the art room means one no longer has to go down the freeway for testing.

The Respiratory Department also supplies the CPAP equipment that one may need after going through a sleep study.

Salois commented, “CPAP is the gold standard according to the National Sleep Foundation for treating apnea.”

She went on to add, “People with mild apnea have had success with surgery (UPPP) or an oral appliance therapy prescribed by a dentist with the proper training.”

Kathy Olson, RN, a nurse working with Dr. Jay Taylor, is yet another individual who talks about the relief she has experienced from CPAP. Olson had a study done and has been using CPAP since January.

“I feel so much better,” she said, “I used to wake up with headaches and a sore throat and didn’t have any energy and I was tired all the time.”

In addition, Olson adds that her snoring has eased, she has more energy, no palpitations and is much calmer. “I haven’t missed a night,” she said.

As with White, sleep apnea has been associated with heart disease regardless of the presence of high blood pressure or other heart risk factors.

Sleep apnea doubles the risk for stroke and the worse the apnea, the greater the risk.

As if that wasn’t enough, OSA has other adverse effects on one’s health.

For example OSA may worsen asthma symptoms and interfere with the effectiveness of asthma medications. OSA is associated with Diabetes and kidney failure as well as liver damage in obese individuals. However recent studies now suggest that apnea may increase the risk of liver disease regardless of weight.

For more information on OSA, contact Salois or Carlbom at the PMC, 271-3011.