Hypopnea syndrome refers to episodes of extremely shallow or slow breathing during sleep. These episode interfere with the body’s ability to get enough oxygen. They may induce repeated waking up during sleep, though the sleeper is not always aware that this happens.
This disrupted sleep cycle causes symptoms similar to those of sleep apnea, in which the sufferer has trouble feeling rested during the day and may be depressed or forgetful.
This sleep disorder is not identical to sleep apnea, however, since some air is flowing through the respiratory system at all times.
Up to a quarter of men between 30 and 60 years old and about 9 percent of women in this age group suffer from this problem, but it can be hard to estimate the true number because most people never get diagnosed.
While this problem isn’t as serious as sleep apnea, it can still worsen over time and increases a person’s risk of a heart attack or stroke.
This condition tends to disrupt sleep patterns during the night, causing patients to get poor quality sleep and to miss vital deep and REM sleep stages.
That leads to a number of unpleasant symptoms:
- Daytime drowsiness
- Ease of fatigue
- Lethargy and low energy levels
- Reduced ability to concentrate
- Headaches upon waking
- Strong mood swings
- Loud snoring and snorting
- Low productivity
People who suffer from hypopnea often spend a lot of time asleep, but they wake feeling unrested. They may also find themselves sleeping at unusual hours or suffering from insomnia due to unusual sleep patterns.
Their loud snoring, punctuated by periods of silence, can be an irritation for partners and family members and may cause serious strain on relationships.
A person may suffer from hypopnea syndrome for a number of reasons, including:
- Congenital defects of the throat and nose
- Adenoid infections
- Obesity or high weight
- Weakened respiratory muscles
- Airway obstruction
- Alcohol or sedative use
Like sleep apnea, hypopnea happens more often in people who are overweight or obese. It can also happen in some people who have relatively low levels of body fat, but who naturally have thick necks or who have a high body weight due to muscle gain.
Many of the same factors that influence sleep apnea and snoring are also causes of hypopnea syndrome.
The treatments for hypopnea syndrome are similar to those used for sleep apnea. All of them involve reducing airway obstruction or changing the shape of the airway to increase airflow and reduce the risk of low-oxygen states. They include:
- CPAP treatment with a mask and externally-enforced air pressure
- BPAP treatment, a muscle and nerve-stimulating drug for people with neuromuscular problems
- Oral appliances made by a dentist
- Weight loss
- Changes in sleep position
- Avoiding drugs, alcohol and sleep medication
- Surgery on the soft palate, tonsils, uvula, tongue or adenoids
While it may be easier to deal with having hypopnea than sleep apnea, this disorder should never go untreated. Getting treatment for this problem can greatly reduce daytime tiredness and improve mental health.
It also decreases the risk of eventual heart and other cardiovascular problems, which can be aggravated by the low oxygen states associated with hypopnea syndrome.
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