Why a morning headache could be a sign of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

By on September 11, 2019
Apnoea

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) is a disruptive and potentially dangerous medical condition in which a patient temporarily stops breathing while they are sleeping. It is thought to affect 4% of men and 2% of women, but as many patients do not seek medical advice, it is likely that more people are affected.

What causes Obstructive Sleep Apnoea?

When we sleep, the muscles in our bodies relax, including those in the throat. Some people snore regularly as a result of the airway narrowing when the throat muscles relax, which reduces the volume of air they breathe during the night.

A patient who is suffering from OSA will stop breathing temporarily because the throat closes completely, creating an obstruction in the windpipe. This is classed as an apnoea if it lasts for at least ten seconds, and the amount of oxygen in the blood may fall as a result.

Some sufferers will hardly notice any disruption to their sleep, but for others the condition can be debilitating, causing them to wake repeatedly throughout the night. Disturbed sleep can have a significant impact on a patient’s alertness during the day.

Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

Because some of the key symptoms present when a sufferer is sleeping, it is often a partner who observes them; the patient may simply believe that they ‘sleep badly’. These symptoms include loud snoring and sudden gasping, choking or grunting. A partner may also notice the patient’s breathing pattern alters frequently and they may be restless while asleep, changing position regularly.

However, other symptoms may be present during daytime and should not be dismissed, including waking with a headache (caused by low oxygen levels), waking with a dry mouth, high blood pressure, difficulty concentrating and fatigue.

Health implications of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

The dangers of OSA should not be underestimated. A report by the American College of Cardiology found that, over a five-year period, 142 people died prematurely as a result of sudden cardiac failure. While this figure pales in comparison to the estimated 12 million US citizens who suffer from OSA, the overall risk of sudden cardiac failure is believed to be double as a result of the condition. 

Furthermore, untreated OSA could have other long-term, serious consequences for someone’s health and wellbeing, so a prompt consultation with a medical professional is important.

Fatigue: Disrupted sleep due to OSA is likely to leave a sufferer exhausted during the day and this can have an adverse impact on their ability to carry out their work or to drive safely. In one study in the US, patients with OSA were found to be two and a half times more likely to be involved in a road traffic accident than drivers without the condition. Fatigue also contributes to mental fogginess, which impairs judgment, reasoning and problem-solving skills.

Worsening symptoms: If you already suffer from a long-term health condition, obstructive sleep apnoea is known to worsen the symptoms of many illnesses. Diabetes, asthma and high cholesterol are all believed to be more difficult to manage when sleep is repeatedly disturbed by apnoea.

Impaired immune system: Our immune system is the armed forces of our bodies, fighting off harmful bacteria and viruses to keep us healthy. OSA is known to weaken the immune system, making it harder for the body to resist harmful pathogens.

Long-term health problems: Scientific evidence indicates a clear link between obstructive sleep apnoea and long-term health conditions – some serious – that may have a life-changing or life-shortening effect. High blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, fatty liver disease, and type 2 diabetes are all associated with the condition, making early treatment a priority.

Treatment Options

For a mild case of OSA, lifestyle choices may help to improve the condition:

  • If you are overweight, find options to lose weight.
  • Limit or cut out alcohol intake and avoid drinking before bedtime.
  • Take up regular exercise.
  • Give up smoking.
  • Avoid the use of sedatives and sleeping pills; instead, use a nasal decongestant or anti-allergy medication.
  • Avoid sleeping on your back.

For more severe or persistent cases, there are several treatment options available:

Positive airway pressure (PAP): a machine fits over a patient’s mouth and nose while they sleep and delivers air pressure, to reduce the frequency of apnoea and improve the overall quality of sleep. A variety of CPAP machines from CPAP Direct, for example, are available so the patient can find the most comfortable option, while modern PAP machines operate quietly to avoid creating distracting noise.

Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty: the removal of soft tissue from the back of the throat, sometimes including the tonsils and adenoids. This is a surgical procedure carried out in hospital requiring a general anesthetic.

Jaw surgery: to create more space at the back of the throat, the jaw can be repositioned by moving it forwards, thereby making full obstruction of the airway less likely.

In the first instance, do not be tempted to dismiss your symptoms as ‘another bad night’s sleep’; consult your doctor who can advise you about the most appropriate treatment available.

 

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Why a morning headache could be a sign of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea