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The Avoidable Tragedy of Carrie Fisher’s Death

The recent death of actress Carrie Fisher, our Princess Leia, has shocked fans and admirers around the world. George Lucas said, “she was extremely smart; a talented actress, writer and comedienne with a very colorful personality that everyone loved.”

It is a tragedy that we will not benefit from her continuing contributions to the arts through her acting and writing. But what I am really upset about is hearing that, while the cause of death was ‘undetermined’, the coroner has attributed her demise in part to having sleep apnea. Why is this a tragedy?

Because sleep apnea is so easy to treat…

I have been treating my sleep apnea for over 20 years and I have been making oral appliances to successfully treat my patients since 2001. CPAP and oral appliances are the only options available that have over 20 years of medical research to back up their claims as being effective in treating sleep apnea.

The relationship between obstructive sleep apnea and heart disease has been established for over 20 years as well. The results of a study presented at the International Conference of American Thoracic Society on May 21, 2007, showed that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease and death.

It is well established that if you do not treat your apnea, your heart will suffer. In 2009, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health reached this conclusion: People with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea faced an increased risk of death from any cause and particularly heart attacks.

It’s easy to spot the symptoms…

Sleep apnea is a disorder in which breathing pauses for up to several minutes during sleep, according to the National Institutes of Health. Untreated, it can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity and diabetes.

It’s the loud snoring, then silence, then a struggle to breathe followed by more snoring that alerts bed partners to go to the Internet to find out what is happening. Then, if the snorer is concerned, they go to their doctor and hopefully get a sleep test. But here’s the real problem…

Although all of this has been clearly understood since the mid 1980s, the American Sleep Association has estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, with 80% of the cases of OSA undiagnosed. Those who have been diagnosed are almost always treated with a CPAP machine, even though a recent study reported in the Journal of Clinical Medicine estimated that 50% of the for CPAP therapy are not compliant one year later. Most of these patients were never even informed that an oral appliance could help them.

If you would like more information about sleep apnea and sleep apnea treatment, please give me a call (408) 910-8800.



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