Sleep Apnea & Sleep Disordered Breathing Cause More Than Hypoxemia

Written by Manny Erlich on January 31, 2013. Posted in Health Effects of Snoring, Snoring 101

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association claims that aside from diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes, sleep apnea may be one of the causes of dementia.

This link of sleep apnea and dementia can be explained through hypoxemia, which is a drop of oxygen levels in the blood, often caused by the obstruction of breathing that is the main symptom of sleep apnea.

The Sleep Apnea Study: Hypoxemia and Long Term Cognitive Decline

Kristine Yaffe M.D. of the University of California, San Francisco, conducted the study. In a sample size of 298 women, approximately one-third reported sleep disordered breathing including 15 episodes of hypoxemia (an occurrence of a drop in the level of oxygen in the blood). Over a period of five years, almost 45% of that third of the original sample size had developed mild cognitive decline or dementia. The researchers concluded that the cognitive decline is related to the hypoxemia experience.

Sleep disordered breathing is the third most common breathing problem, aside from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Sleep Apnea itself comes in two forms: OSA, or obstructive sleep apnea, where the tongue and soft palette relax and block the air passages, or central sleep apnea, which stems from weak communication between the brain and the diaphragm.

Treating Sleep Apnea and Hypoxemia

Sleep Apnea can be treated through the use of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure treatment (CPAP), which improves symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and often shows a decline in cognitive impairment. CPAP is also an option available to treating hypoxemia. The use of an oral appliance has been known to help some with OSA who found wearing the CPAP mask too uncomfortable.

Treating central sleep apnea can also be treated through CPAP, but may also require BPAP, or bi-level positive airway pressure, which provides enhanced breathing aide for someone with sleep disordered breathing.

Doctors and researchers are currently working on developing new treatments for sleep disordered breathing, such as surgical sub-skin implants that connect to wires linked with the hypoglossal nerve to control the tongue and prevent it from blocking the air passages during the night.

With the emergence of new technologies, those suffering from sleep apnea are moving one step closer to a good night’s sleep and decreased risk of hypoxemia and later health problems.


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Manny Erlich

International Foundation of Employee Benefits - Certified Employee Benefits Specialist

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