Saturday, December 9, 2023

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Local Voices: The unknown dangers of undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea


Submitted by Larina Branch, Family Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (Rush University Doctorate of Nursing Studies)

Good sleep hygiene and adequate rest is vital to the psychological and physical health of people of all ages. What happens when quality of sleep is unknowingly altered every night? What are the long-term consequences of non-treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea also known as OSA?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a serious medical condition that has the potential to cause many health issues if left untreated. OSA is described as a sleep related disorder that causes a disruptive breathing pattern that reduces an individual’s oxygen level while sleeping (Khosla & Shaikh, 2020). Over time, this breathing dysfunction eventually leads to many other health complications. Statistics have shown that approximately 100 million adults in the United States have been diagnosed with sleep apnea (Deckard, 2018). Undiagnosed OSA can limit the quality and quantity of restful hours of an individual’s sleep, resulting in an array of mental and physical symptoms, multiple coexisting conditions and/or death. OSA also places the population at an increased risk of developing comorbidities that will worsen a person’s current quality of life or cause a much faster decline in health, in addition to high financial burden caused by increased cost to manage multiple conditions. This condition is especially concerning for athletes who intensely condition for their sport.

What causes OSA?

There is a mixture of factors that are categorized into modifiable (can be controlled) and non-modifiable (cannot be controlled) risk factors.

  • Top modifiable risk factors include: Obesity, Hypertension, Diabetes, Regular Alcohol, and Tobacco use
  • Top non-modifiable risk factors include: Craniofacial abnormalities/soft palate alterations (structure of the facial, neck, throat components), Genetics/Family history of OSA, Sex (middle to older age men)

Those who have untreated OSA are at increased risk for other health conditions such as cerebrovascular accidents (CVA’s), hypertension, heart arrhythmias, heart failure, and sudden cardiac death. (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2022)

So why are more people not being tested?

There are several barriers as to why many people don’t quite know that they have OSA.

  1. People are unaware of their sleep disturbances (unrecognized symptoms) — Lack of knowledge about OSA.
  2. Patient lack of medical attention.

3. Primary Care Provider may be inexperienced with screening for OSA.

What are the warning signs?

  • Loud Snoring
  • Witnessed gasping or choking while asleep
  • Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
  • Brain fogginess (confusion, forgetfulness, lack of mental clarity)
  • Resistant Hypertension (high blood pressure despite medication treatment)

Treatment Options for OSA

  • CPAP- Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Device
  • MAD- Mandible Advancement Device
  • Nasal/Oral surgery with Ear, Nose, Throat Specialist

If you suspect or would like to be tested for OSA, here’s where you start

  • Schedule Office Visit
    • Go over history and current symptoms
    • Complete risk assessment Questionnaire
    • If appropriate, a sleep study test will be ordered
  • Sleep Study Order
    • In Center Sleep Apnea Test or Home Sleep Apnea Test
    • Provider will discuss results and treatment options if results are positive.

Health education is the key to informing our community about conditions that can negatively impact our health. The goal is to give everyone the tools needed to make informed health decisions for optimal health of the community and to provide resources. Health maintenance and proper self-care is extremely important to individual quality of life and the longevity of the family. I encourage you to reach out to your healthcare provider for questions and further education about OSA for risk evaluation and to know your status. Below are links for more education and local resources.


Larina Branch, FNP-BC

Local Voices
Local Voices
Local Voices is The Lansing Journal's version of “Letters to the Editor.” The opinions posted here are those of the writers, and posting them does not indicate endorsement by The Lansing Journal. We welcome input from fellow residents who have thoughtful things to say about topics that are important to our community. Submissions may be sent to [email protected] with “Voices” in the subject line.