Sleep Apnea And Blindness?

August 17, 2009

My father just turned 77, and he’s living the life of his dreams. Ever since retirement, he’s been taking courses with undergrads at Hunter college, hikes in the mountains, plays tennis, swims, performs in plays and musicals, sings in his church choir, and goes to see the opera and symphony concerts routinely. He recently relayed to me how grateful he is, as many of his friends are either dead or incapacitated with chronic illnesses. I guess it’s only natural to reflect on these issues, in light of what’s happening to our peers.
I recently came across a patient in his 60s, who was recently diagnosed with severe obstructive sleep apnea. He stopped breathing over 100 times per hour. Fortunately, he was able to use and significantly benefit from his CPAP machine. He’s not feeling perfect, but his quality of life is greatly improved, and he continues to use his CPAP regularly. 
On his last visit, he happened to mention that two of his close friends have obstructive sleep apnea but refuses to use CPAP. Both their machines are sitting in their closets. They’re both overweight and have a variety of medical problems. One recently suffered a stroke that left him half blind, and another one had a massive pulmonary embolus and had to be hospitalized for a week. These experiences with with friends only reinforces his daily CPAP regimen and to take every measure possible to improve his health.
Since having untreated obstructive sleep apnea can significantly increase your risk for clots and stroke, it’s pretty likely that his two friends could have avoided their recent medical complications if they had figured out a way to either use CPAP regularly or treated their sleep apnea in other ways. 
Although the overall statistic of men who have even mild obstructive sleep apnea is about 25%, if you take only people 60 or over, it’s probably much higher. In addition, that 25% statistic was reported from a study over 20 years ago. Now that people are much heavier, that overall statistic is likely to be higher. Knowing that over 90% of people with sleep apnea are not diagnosed, it’s not surprising that so many relatively young people have are having unexplained heart attacks and strokes.

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