Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a very common condition- it affects about 24% of men and 9% of women. Worryingly, the vast majority of people who have moderate or severe OSA don’t know they have it. But is undiagnosed sleep apnoea a problem? Unfortunately the answer is yes! Sleep apnoea increases the risk of many health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. It’s thought that the average life expectancy of a person with untreated OSA is only 58 years- much shorter than the average life span of 78 years for men and 83 years for women these days. So, it’s clearly very important to diagnose it via a sleep study and get appropriate treatment.
The symptoms of sleep apnoea
The symptoms vary from person to person. Some will have been told that they snore a lot (click here to learn more about snoring) or stop breathing for brief periods while they are asleep. This obstruction in the upper airways can cause low oxygen levels at night, and poor quality sleep. In turn, this may lead to sleepiness during the day, feeling tired and unrefreshed upon waking in the morning, poor concentration and headaches.
To check for OSA, many doctors will ask patients to fill out a questionnaire. A popular one is the “STOP-BANG” questionnaire. Each “yes” scores a point. A score of 3-4 means you have an intermediate risk of OSA, but 5-8 suggests a high risk:
- Do you snore loudly (loud enough to be heard through closed doors?)
- Do you often feel tired, fatigued or sleep during the day (such as falling asleep while driving or while talking to someone?)
- Has anyone observed you stop breathing or choking/gasping during your sleep?
- Do you have high blood pressure (or being treated for high blood pressure)?
- Is your body mass index more than 35kg/m2? ( plenty of online calculators will tell you)
- Are you more than 50 years old?
- Do you have a large neck size (male collar size > 43cm or female > 41cm)
- Are you male?
How do I get a sleep study?
If you think you may have sleep apnoea based on these questions, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor (or online doctor) about having a sleep study. At www.qoctor.com.au you can get an online referral for a sleep study without needing to see a GP first. If it turns out you DO have sleep apnoea, then you’ll need to see a respiratory specialist for advice and management.