There are plenty of routine screenings that are accepted as a normal part of our lives and medical experiences. When women reach their forties, doctors start recommending that they get regular mammograms to screen for breast cancer. Once you hit fifty, you enter colonoscopy territory. Tests like these become standard because they can help expose common health issues in time to treat them and potentially save lives.
Much like other diseases that we regularly screen for, sleep apnea is a dangerous health issue that affects many people worldwide. So would lives be saved if everyone underwent sleep apnea screenings? This is a question researchers have recently been asking.
The Dangers of Sleep Apnea
Some people reduce sleep apnea to snoring and dismiss it as inconsequential. Unfortunately, sleep apnea is more than just snoring, and it’s incredibly dangerous.
Sleep apnea is an incredibly common sleep disorder: Research suggests that at least one in ten people suffers from it. A person with sleep apnea stops breathing periodically while asleep, sometimes as often as hundreds of times a night. These little periods of oxygen deprivation have a big effect — not only does sleep apnea affect the way your body processes energy, but it can also damage your heart and circulatory system. It can even cause depression and poor focus, resulting in lower work performance and even car accidents.
In fact, there are plenty of cognitive side effects of sleep apnea: From decreased overall cognitive ability to links to dementia, the negative impacts of sleep apnea on mental health are particularly troubling.
But perhaps the most frightening piece of the sleep apnea puzzle is that mild sleep apnea is just as dangerous as severe sleep apnea, so anyone who suffers from sleep apnea, regardless of how severe it is, is at risk of further health problems as a result.
Should Everyone Be Tested?
If sleep apnea is such a health risk, should everyone be screened for it, regardless of whether or not they show symptoms? This is the question that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) wanted to answer. To find that answer, they conducted a review of all existing scientific literature about sleep apnea.
After reviewing the available literature, Dr. Alexander Krist of the USPSTF noted that there was insufficient evidence to determine if screening everyone for sleep apnea would be beneficial. And while sleep apnea treatments like CPAP and mandibular advancement devices have been beneficial to those diagnosed with sleep apnea, they come with enough discomfort for doctors to not recommend that people use them without a sleep apnea diagnosis.
Should You Be Screened?
However, it’s still imperative that people who are suffering from symptoms of sleep apnea get screened for the disorder. If family or partners report that you snore at night, this can be a hallmark symptom of sleep apnea. Drowsiness, lack of focus, waking suddenly from sleep, and other symptoms can indicate sleep apnea as well.
Treatment for sleep apnea can significantly reduce the associated health risks of the disorder. If you have symptoms of sleep apnea, you’ll want to consult with a sleep dentist and a sleep physician. A physician can diagnose you, and a sleep dentist can treat you.