Last month, details about Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher’s shocking death was finally revealed. The coroner determined that Fisher’s massive heart attack was not only caused by multiple drugs in her system, but that sleep apnea was a contributing factor to the heart attack as well.
At cited in People.com, sleep apnea is rarely a direct cause of death, but it can lead to other potentially fatal health problems such as high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, diabetes and in Carrie’s case, heart attacks. In addition, patients with sleep disorders like Carrie often resort to drugs or alcohol to either assist with sleep or to stay awake during the day, says a 2009 study published online at the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
Although using these substances may help in the short term, using too many potentially harmful substances can actually cause long term disturbances in sleep, which in turn, can cause sleep apnea patients to go into relapse. The researchers who conducted the study mentioned above recommend routine screening for sleep problems in subjects with substance abuse because frequent relapse is common. Maybe if Carrie was screened for sleep problems, she would still be alive today.
At this point, we know that actors aren’t invincible to the dangers of sleep apnea. But what about athletes? Yes, even athletes can suffer from sleep apnea as well, just ask Shaquille O’Neal. The retired basketball star shed light on this issue by being featured in a video by Harvard Medical School to spread awareness about the issue. As of this writing, the video has over 1.7 million views on YouTube.
Initially, it was O’Neal’s girlfriend had been insisting he get tested by Dr. Charles Czeisler, director of the division of sleep medicine Harvard Medical School, for sleep apnea. “Sometimes his snoring wakes him up, she says in the video. “It usually happens when he’s on his back. He gets into that deep snore, then he stops. His chest would stop moving and he was not breathing. So I would nudge him to wake him up and he would catch his breath.”
During the study, sleep specialists monitored Shaq’s brain waves by using electrodes attached to his head during an overnight recording. Dr. Czeisler then looked at every second of the study, and came to the conclusion that Shaq had moderate sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is normally treated by lifestyle adjustments, like eating healthier, losing weight, exercise and certain breathing devices. Given Shaq’s excellent health, he was recommended a CPAP mask for treatment, which increases positive air pressure in the throat so airways don’t collapse during breathing.
If celebrities like Carrie Fisher and Shaquille O’Neal aren’t invincible to this disease, then no one is! So what’s the moral of the story? If you have a history of substance abuse to treat your sleep problems or you have a bed partner that frequently complains about your snoring, then maybe it’s time you checked for sleep apnea!