Actress Rosie O'Donnell Sheds Light on OSA

On a recent edition of The View, Rosie O'Donnell disclosed her struggle with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), shedding new light on a life-threatening condition that is commonly misperceived as a simple nuisance.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, of the 18 million Americans that suffer from OSA, 6 million are women, and up to 90 percent remain undiagnosed. Clinical research has established a strong link between obstructive sleep apnea and leading causes of death — including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, heart failure and fatal auto accidents — as well as disruptive effects such as depression, irritability, sexual dysfunction, and learning and memory difficulties.

Advisors to, an online resource dedicated to educating the public about obstructive sleep apnea and helping to improve the lives of the millions afflicted with the condition offer the following facts about sleep apnea.

OSA Facts:

  • Sleep apnea is as prevalent as adult diabetes and asthma. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), approximately 18 million Americans, or roughly 20 percent of the U.S. adult population, suffer from sleep apnea.
  • Approximately 1 in 5 adults has at least mild obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and 1 in 15 adults has OSA of moderate or worse severity, according to a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
  • Each year, nearly 4 percent of men and two percent of women older than age 35 are diagnosed with sleep apnea, according to the NIH. Yet, it is estimated that as many as 90 percent of all cases remain undiagnosed, largely due to the fact that sufferers are unaware that their symptoms are a sign of a serious breathing disorder and that effective sleep apnea treatment is available.
  • The consequences of obstructive sleep apnea range from disruptive to life-threatening. Disruptive consequences include daytime fatigue, depression, irritability, sexual dysfunction, learning and memory difficulties, and falling asleep while at work, on the phone or driving. Life-threatening consequences include congestive heart failure, stroke, irregular heart rhythms, cardiovascular disease and fatal car accidents.
  • It is estimated that about one-third of all patients with heart failure have obstructive sleep apnea, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine. In this clinical study, patients with heart failure that were treated with Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) achieved a noted reduction in systolic blood pressure and an overall improvement in heart function.
  • According to a recent Mayo Clinic study published in the journal Circulation, a common irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation doubles the risk of obstructive sleep apnea indicating that patients with atrial fibrillation should be screened for OSA, particularly those with obesity or high blood pressure, known risk factors.
  • OSA sufferers are three times more likely to have automobile accidents than non-sufferers. In fact, according to a study conducted by the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, each year, 980 lives could potentially be saved and $11.1 billion in automobile accident costs could be avoided if drivers who suffer from OSA received successful sleep apnea treatment.
  • The recognized obstructive sleep apnea symptoms include: loud snoring, nocturnal gasping and choking during sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, memory or learning problems, irritability, lack of concentration, mood swings or personality changes, dry throat upon awakening, witnessed apneas and frequent urination.
  • Signs that a person may be susceptible for OSA include: loud snoring, being 20 to 30 pounds overweight, having high blood pressure, having a crowded posterior airway, congestion caused by hay fever and other allergies, a short, thick neck, or a family history of sleep apnea.
  • During an average night's sleep, an obstructive sleep apnea sufferer may experience 60 apneas an hour, or 400 per night. Data has shown that the risk of long-term mortality increases when patients experience 20 or more apneas per hour.
  • Studies have shown that the partners of OSA sufferers can lose up to one hour of sleep per night due to their bed partner's loud snoring and apneas.
  • CPAP is the most common and effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. CPAP provides airflow to the patient via a nasal mask. The air pressure holds or splints the airway open so that air flows freely to the lungs.

This article originally appeared in the November 2006 issue of HME Business.

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