Do your patients suffer from high blood pressure? What about coronary artery disease? Have they suffered from congestive heart failure or survived a stroke? If any of these sound like patients you’ve worked with, it’s possible that they may also be suffering from undiagnosed or untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is a condition where you experience repeated interruptions during sleep that can have an overreaching impact on a patient’s overall quality of life.
You may or may not already be aware that in-lab sleep studies and at-home sleep tests are a surefire way to get obstructive sleep apnea diagnosed, and cardiologists are licensed to have patients tested for sleep apnea because there are several tell-tale signs of the sleep disorder that could be hiding in your cardiovascular system.
Cardiologists: What To Look Out For
Especially if you’ve been a cardiology specialist for a long period of time, you may be well-versed in particular problems that can result in, or even be the result of, OSA. OSA is primarily caused by part of the body blocking airways during sleep. This could be for one of many reasons, but Type II Diabetes, Hypertension (high blood pressure), atrial fibrillation, and arrhythmias can be worsened or directly impacted by untreated OSA.
It would be fairly simple to see if your patients are at risk of sleep apnea because of one of these specific reasons. If you believe a patient may be suffering from untreated OSA, you should talk to your patient(s) about getting an at-home sleep apnea test. Here are some symptoms of untreated OSA you can be on the lookout for:
- Loud, persistent snoring
- Witnessed pauses in breathing (often from a family member or significant other)
- Choking or gasping for air during sleep
- Restless sleep
- Frequent visits to the bathroom
- Early morning headaches
- Excessive daytime fatigue or drowsiness
- Poor concentration
- Depression, irritability, or mood swings
- Sleepiness during routine activities (e.g. driving)
Dangers of Untreated OSA
OSA, like any condition that impacts restful, rejuvenative sleep, can take a significant toll on a person’s day to day life. However, if left untreated, OSA can also lead to other very worrisome medical conditions later on down the road. Untreated sleep apnea can lead to alarming medical conditions, like high blood pressure, heart failure, Type 2 diabetes, and even certain types of cancer. Especially if you already suffer from one or more of these cardiovascular conditions, getting your sleep apnea diagnosed sooner is imperative.
How Your Patients Can Be Treated
While there continues to be mysteries surrounding the need for quality sleep, sleep disorders, especially sleep apneas, are fairly well understood by sleep specialists. Some cardiologists will even go back for board-certification in sleep medicine because of the close links between the two practices.
The general consensus is that, no, there really isn’t a “cure” for sleep apnea—especially for patients diagnosed with moderate or severe apnea. However, there are treatment options available to those with sleep apnea to reduce or possibly eliminate their risks and symptoms.
For those who suffer from mild to moderate sleep apnea, oral appliances can be an effective treatment option. Resembling mouth guards, the appliances position the jaw to allow for unobstructed breathing by preventing the jaw from relaxing too far back in the throat. While the FDA has approved the use of these dental appliances when prescribed by a dentist, many of the over-the-counter appliance options are not FDA approved for sleep apnea. Be sure to do significant research if you’re interested in pursuing this treatment option.
There is still some skepticism surrounding the effectiveness of surgery to alleviate sleep apnea, but there have been some promising studies in recent years. Currently, the most common procedure to treat sleep apnea is uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, which surgically removes throat tissues that can obstruct the airways in deep sleep. But statistics show that this procedure only helps patients about 60% of the time.
CPAP & AutoPAP
While many experience anxiety or stress around the decision to treat their sleep apnea with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or automatic positive airway pressure (AutoPAP) machines, these devices remain the most effective treatment for those suffering from all levels of sleep apnea.
For those curious about the differences between these two machines, the CPAP provides a continuous stream of light air pressure that prevents obstructions to the throat and chest during sleep, preventing apnea events.
The AutoPAP is a newer, more innovative option that senses obstructions or disturbances in your breathing and provides an increasing amount of airway pressure until the obstruction is eliminated. This is an extremely effective treatment for those experiencing severe snoring, apneas, and hypopneas during sleep. Some newer AutoPAP machines include built-in humidifiers to combat dryness that can result from the increased airway pressure.
Helping Your Cardiology Patients Sooner
If your patients struggle with a sleep disorder like OSA, you know that it can lead to very serious or worsened conditions if left untreated. From heart disease to obesity, the quality of their life and health will continually deteriorate and their life expectancy depends on proactive healthcare providers to intervene before it’s too late.
While it’s not necessary to seek your own board certification in sleep medicine, cardiologists need to be familiar with signs and symptoms of sleep apnea and be another screening resource when their patients come in for appointments. If your patients see a worsening of their symptoms, especially if they are already on medications, they may be suffering from sleep apnea that is exacerbating their cardiovascular health. It is your obligation as a healthcare provider to ensure your patients get the answers they need. These red flags should lead to follow up questions about the patient’s sleeping habits and patterns.
For a long time, the only way to diagnose your patient with sleep apnea was to have them undergo a complex and uncomfortable sleep study in a hospital lab setting. But now there are more options than ever before to help your patients get the treatment they need sooner with accurate sleep apnea testing results—all from the comfort of their own home.
By entering into an in-office partnership with ApneaMed, medical professionals can give their patients quicker, more affordable options for diagnosing their sleep apnea.
Other Partnership Options
For medical professionals, ApneaMed strongly advocates for the in-office partnership as it provides you and your patients with the best, most convenient options for sleep apnea home testing. However, we know that this option may not be the best for your practice and so we offer two other partnerships for your consideration:
Referral Partnership: With this option, you can refer patients or employees to ApneaMed for sleep apnea in-home testing. We will contact the referred individual and set them up with their own home sleep testing unit to evaluate them for sleep apnea. Once diagnosed by our board-certified sleep physicians, they will be contacted by our patient care representatives who will review treatment options with them directly.
Mail-Out Partnership: As a medical provider, you will be able to order a home sleep test from ApneaMed and we will then mail the unit to the intended recipient. Once they have successfully completed their home testing, they will mail it back to us for evaluation and diagnosis. Once diagnosed by our board-certified sleep physicians, they will be contacted by our patient care representatives who will review treatment options with them directly.
Contact us if you have questions or are interested in a partnership to help your patients. It is extremely important to have OSA quickly diagnosed and effectively treated before it leads to even more severe medical conditions.