Half of Greek men and one in five women have sleep apnea syndrome, according to findings presented at an American College of Greece online lecture on Wednesday. The presentation, based on a study conducted in 2019 and released recently by Greek scientists, was conducted by Constantin Soldatos, professor of psychiatry and honorary president of the Hellenic Sleep Research Society.
Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. These temporary breathing lapses cause lower-quality sleep and affect the body’s supply of oxygen, leading to potentially serious health consequences. The Hellenic Sleep Research Society says that sleep apnea in Greece is increasing among the population at a rapid pace.
A 2008 epidemiological study showed that up to 7% of men and up to 5% of women suffered from this syndrome. By 2019, the percentages reached 50% for men and 18% and women.
Anastasia Amfilochiou, pulmonologist and director of the Sleep Study Unit at the Sismanogleio Hospital in Athens, predicted that the syndrome will take the form of a pandemic in men aged 40 to 60 by 2050.
She said that the rapid rise in sleep apnea is related to an increase in obesity, but also other factors, such as anatomy, smoking, consumption of alcohol and sedative pills, but also genetic factors.
Sleep apnea can affect anyone, but is more common in people who are middle aged or older, who snore, who are above a healthy weight and who have sleep apnea in the family.
Evidence shows that people with untreated moderate to severe type of apnea are more likely to have high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease.
Three types of sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): OSA occurs when the airway at the back of the throat becomes physically blocked. That obstruction causes temporary lapses in breath.
Central sleep apnea (CSA): CSA happens because there is a problem with the brain’s system for controlling muscles involved in respiration, leading to slower and shallower breathing.
Mixed sleep apnea: When a person has both OSA and CSA at the same time, it is referred to as mixed sleep apnea or complex sleep apnea.
Because the underlying causes are distinct, there are important differences in the symptoms, causes, and treatments of OSA and CSA.
All three types share certain common symptoms:
- Disrupted breathing in which a person’s respiration can become labored or even stop for up to a minute at a time
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Morning headaches
- Limited attention span or difficulty thinking clearly
- Many of these symptoms arise because of poor sleep and decreased oxygen levels that occur as a result of interrupted breathing.
Chronic snoring is the most common symptom of OSA, but that doesn’t mean that everyone who snores has sleep apnea. Snoring is not a frequent symptom in people with CSA.
In general, a person with the disorder is not aware of their breathing problems at night. For that reason, they often only find out about the issue from a bed partner, family member, or roommate.
Excessive daytime sleepiness is the most likely symptom to be noticed by people with sleep apnea that live alone.