PUBLISHED: 3:53 PM on Wednesday, March 19, 2008
The Killer Snore
Patient's doctor asked the right questions, prevented potentially-lethal condition
Kurt woke up every morning in a foul mood, not at all ready to face the stress typical of his job as a construction contractor.

Several years ago, while getting a medical check-up he casually mentioned to his doctor the exhaustion he could not shake and the depression that would not go away. "I was explaining the symptoms - my chronic fatigue, my moods, low energy levels." Did he snore, the doctor asked, to which Kurt replied he was notorious for his loud snoring.

How well did he sleep? Kurt mentioned that his ex-wife used to wake him to say he had stopped breathing. "It was my doctor asking me the right questions that led to his recommendation that I go to a sleep clinic."

Kurt learned that his snoring, and interrupted breathing, was a symptom of a life-threatening disorder known as "Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome" (OSAS). During sleep, his body was being starved of oxygen due to the intermittent collapse of his breathing passageway.

It was a condition, he states, "that affected my ability to work and added to the depression I experienced."

Shelli Cutting, Technical Director of Bartlett Regional Hospital's Sleep Disorders Laboratory, says that sleep apnea is the most common, and one of the most dangerous, of the over 90 medically recognized sleep disorders. To determine if someone has a sleep disorder, testing is required most of the time.

A sleep lab test is not inexpensive so Cutting is careful to screen potential patients. "We don't want to do the test unless we are fairly certain a person needs it."

The sleep lab has comfortable "hotel like" bedrooms where the testing is conducted. The data collected includes brain waves to determine sleep, breathing to obtain the frequency the patient quits breathing, oxygen saturation (detected by a finger-clip monitor), heart rate and limb movements. The collected data are then scored and tabulated to diagnose the patients condition.

Kurt's sleep lab test revealed he was waking (subconsciously) on average 11 times an hour. His chronic fatigue and moodiness were classic symptoms of OSAS. Not only was he not getting a good night's sleep, his heart was also working overtime to deliver sufficient oxygen. Left untreated, he could have developed high blood pressure and suffered from congestive heart disease, heart failure or stroke.

For Kurt the solution was a "CPAP" (pronounced see-pap), a device that provides continuous positive airway pressure. While sleeping, Kurt wears a small mask over his nose that is attached by a tube to the CPAP. There are some other methods for correcting the condition, including surgery, lifestyle changes (drinking alcohol - even one glass of wine a night - and smoking may worsen the condition), and the use of other devices that may be appropriate based on the patients condition.

Kurt now wakes up ready for a new day. He stopped drinking and smoking, his career has taken off, and he is in good physical shape. Now that he has his snoring and sleep apnea under control, he is less inhibited about dating women.

To learn more, call Bartlett Sleep Sciences at (907) 796-8875.