It’s estimated that about 25% of men and 10% of women have obstructive sleep apnea. Since doctors are human beings as well, it’s expected that you’ll find the same proportion of sleep apnea within the physician population. In general, people respond well to sleep apnea treatment, but one thing I’ve noticed is that for the most part, doctors are reluctant to even acknowledge that they may have sleep apnea, and even if diagnosed, refuse to get it treated properly.
I see the same proportion of high blood pressure, asthma, high cholesterol, depression and heart disease in doctors, and they take the typical medications that are given for these medical conditions. But when it comes to sleep apnea, I’ve noticed 3 common features:
1. Doctors are very reluctant to use the various machines, appliances or even consider surgical options for sleep apnea. Perhaps they’ve been exposed to these options in their career and don’t like the idea of having to do something other than to take a pill.
2. The first thing that they think about when I mention sleep apnea is either a tracheotomy or the stereotypical picture of the morbidly obese man with a CPAP mask and hose attached to a machine. Maybe it reminds them too much of being on a respirator.
3. Just like many non-physicians who may have sleep apnea, not having an official diagnosis means that they can put off having to try the different treatment options. Frequently, they’ll refuse to undergo a sleep study.
Ultimately, it sounds like denial to me. But one requirement that all doctors should experience is to undergo the various treatment options that they prescribe to their own patients. All sleep doctors should undergo a sleep study and experience a CPAP machine. Gastroenterologists should undergo a colonoscopy before starting practice. Undergoing surgery is more difficult, but when needed, can be a valuable experience for experiencing what it’s like to be on the other side of the curtain. Maybe even oncologists should undergo chemotherapy at least once in their lifetime.
Unfortunately (and fortunately), I’ve had the opportunity to be a patient a handful of times, and each one was a valuable learning experience. After undergoing emergency surgery a few years back, I’ve noticed that my demeanor and attitude to patients during and after surgery has improved for the better. A doctor with sleep apnea should set an example for the patient and practice what he or she preaches.
Do you have any doctors that may have undiagnosed sleep apnea?