Sleep apnea, anxiety issues and flatulence, oh my!

November 29, 2018

Q. How can I tell if I'm suffering from sleep apnea?

About 18 million Americans have sleep apnea. It’s much more common in older adults and men. Apnea is Greek for “without breath.”

People with sleep apnea stop breathing for as long as 30 seconds at a time. These interruptions can happen hundreds of times a night. The breathing cessations may wake you and prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. These awakenings usually are so brief that you don’t recall them.

The most common symptoms of sleep apnea include:

• Excessive daytime sleepiness
• Loud snoring
• Observed episodes of breathing stoppages during sleep
• Abrupt awakenings with shortness of breath
• Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
• Morning headache
• Problems associated with sleep deprivation such as forgetfulness and mood changes.

About 90 percent of sleep-apnea victims have a windpipe blockage. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax. These muscles support the soft palate, tonsils, tongue and uvula – that doohickey that hangs in the back of your mouth. When the muscles relax, your airway is narrowed and breathing is cut off. A blockage can also be caused by a lot of fatty tissue in the throat.

Q. I seem to be anxious more than usual. Is this something that increases with age?

Because the stresses of health problems, losses and and other major life changes build up as we get older, we tend to become anxious. Some surveys suggest that one in five older adults suffers anxiety symptoms that require treatment.

In addition to psychological causes, medical disorders common in older adults can be directly responsible for the anxiety we feel. These include heart disease, neurologic illness, thyroid and other hormone problems. In addition, anxiety can be a drug side effect. And seniors take a lot of medicine.

Anxiety disorders in seniors have been underestimated. One of the main reasons is that older patients are more likely to emphasize their physical complaints and downplay emotional problems.

Anxiety disorders are serious medical illnesses that affect approximately 40 million American adults. They all involve excessive, irrational fear. Anxiety disorders are chronic and can worsen if untreated.

Anxiety disorders are treated with medication and psychotherapy. Both approaches can be effective for most disorders. Anxiety disorders are not all treated the same, so it is important to determine the specific problem first.

Although medications won't cure an anxiety disorder, they can keep the symptoms under control and enable people to have normal lives.

Q. I seem to pass gas a lot. What's normal?

For the record, most people pass gas about 10 times each day. Twenty times daily is still considered normal.

Most people produce between a pint and a half-gallon of gas each day. Oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen from swallowed air make up a large part of gas or “flatus.” Fermenting foods in the colon produce hydrogen and methane as well as carbon dioxide and oxygen.

The unpleasant odor of some flatus is the result of trace gases, such as hydrogen sulfide, indole, and skatole, which are produced when foods decompose in the colon.

We release gas upwardly by belching and downwardly by flatulence. When we swallow air and don’t release it by belching, the air will work its way down and out the rectum. About half the gas passed from the rectum comes from swallowed air.

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