Why Your Doctor Needs to Talk to You About Sleep Apnea — But Won’t
By L. Markham McHenry, D.O.
When I meet a new patient for the first time, we spend nearly 2 hours talking about their health. I take a full medical history, delve deep into their symptoms, and find out what their goals are to achieve optimal health.
As you can imagine, there are a ton of questions I ask. One of the most important is how’s your poop?
I know most of them are embarrassed to talk about their bathroom habits, just like you would be. And not surprisingly, the most common response I get is, “It’s good.”
But “good” doesn’t tell me much. Does “good” mean:
- After every meal?
- Every day?
- A few times a week with bouts constipation or diarrhea thrown in?
I need to dig a little deeper so I can find out what’s really going on with their health.
Just like poop, we have another potentially embarrassing, but important discussion: sleep.
I know that if I asked you how well you sleep, you would probably be short and sweet about that too.
Maybe you think, “It’s a personal matter.”
Or you don’t want to admit that you snore.
Perhaps you’re simply too busy to make time to sleep better.
And like most people, you think it’s really not a big deal.
But it is. I think it’s one of the most important things your doctor should be talking to you about.
Why? Because obstructive sleep apnea — a condition that causes brief pauses in breathing — is more than just restless sleep.
Obstructive sleep apnea affects more than 18 million Americans. And what may surprise you is that it isn’t only obese men over 40 with large necks who have it. Even if you’re thin, in shape, or a CrossFit devotee, you might have sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is one of the most important indicators of health and drivers of disease. In fact, it’s a contributing factor for:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease and stroke
- Weight gain
- Mental fatigue and clarity
- Mood problems
- Daytime sleepiness
What your doctor isn’t telling you
Chances are your physician isn’t peppering you with questions about your sleep. He either doesn’t take the time to address it or he simply doesn’t have the time.
In fact, according to a recent report by the National Sleep Foundation, about 13 percent of people with sleep apnea are walking around undiagnosed.
Here are some of the questions I ask my patients:
- On average, how many hours of sleep do you get?
- What time do you go to bed?
- How long does it take you to fall asleep?
- What is your sleep environment like?
- How many times do you wake up throughout the night?
- Do you have dreams or remember them?
- What time do you wake up in the morning?
- When you wake up, do you feel rested?
- Do you wake up with a loud alarm clock?
- Do you use over-the-counter or prescription sleep medications?
- Do you smoke?
In addition to a thorough screening, we also use blood tests that screen for vascular inflammation. If your inflammatory markers are elevated, it’s a red flag that you likely have sleep apnea too.
So your physician should be acting like an investigative reporter when it comes to your health.
We take the time to uncover what’s really behind your symptoms, regardless of how benign they may seem. Want to learn more? Contact me today.