Severe Apnoea. How Severe Is It?

Wed, Jun 22, 2011

Sleep apnoea (ie., the cessation of breathing while asleep) is classified as mild, moderate or severe depending on the average number of ‘apnoeic events’ which occur per hour will the patient is asleep.  To classify as an apnoeic event, the person must stop breathing for at least 10 seconds.  There is no ‘maximum’ period — and we regularly treat patients who stop breathing for 30 seconds to a minute each time.  In particularly severe cases, the patients stop breathing for up to 2 minutes each time. 

Try holding your breath for that long.  Now try doing it a dozen or more times per hour.

A person with ‘mild’ apnoea stops breathing between 5 and 15 times per hour.  That means breathing stops every 4 to 12 minutes. 

A person with ‘moderate’ apnoea stops breathing between 15 and 30 times per hour.  That equates to a breathing stoppage every 2 to 4 minutes.

A person with ‘severe’ sleep apnoea stops breathing 30 or more times per hour.  In extreme cases, we have seen and treated patients who stop breathing over 100 times per hour.  That means they stop breathing more than once every minute, for at least 10 seconds each time.  More typical periods of stoppage are 20 to 30 seconds.

Serious apnoea sufferers may therefore not be breathing for more than half of every hour they’re asleep.  No wonder their blood oxygen levels fall and blood pressure rises.

And no wonder they wake feeling tired.  Typically, each apnoeic event is followed by a ‘micro arousal’, where the patients wakes briefly and resumes breathing.  Micro arousals are so brief, the patient has no conscious awareness of having woken.  Therefore, the next morning they think they’ve sleep for 8 hours straight and can’t work out why they wake feeling so tired.  The reality is they have NOT slept 8 hours straight.  They’ve actually had a hundred or more short naps.

You can imagine how you would feel if you dozed off, then were woken, then dozed off, then were woken, then dozed off, then were woken … again and again, for months and years on end.  The disruption to the quality of your sleep would obviously be massive. 

One of the greatest challenges facing the treatment of apnoea is the fact that the patients simply don’t know they are suffering from the condition — because they’re asleep when it occurs.  That being the case, look for other indicators…

Waking feeling tired is a significant signal.  Feeling drowsy in the afternoon is another.  High blood pressure is a very significant indicator.  Snoring is a major ‘red flag’.  In fact, if you snore and suffer from at least one of the other indicators just mentioned, it is very likely you are suffering from some degree of apnoea.

The good news is, treatment is available and highly effective.  The starting point is to have a diagnostic sleep study performed to determine exactly what is happening while you're asleep.  Most of the cost of this study is covered by Medicare, and we can arrange for the sleep study to be performed in the comfort and privacy of your own home.   Call 1300 246 637 for more information, or contact us online.