Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition that causes you to stop breathing for a few seconds at a time during sleep. It can be caused by many things, including a hiatal hernia.
According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, about 15 percent of people with sleep apnea have a hiatal hernia.
What is a hiatal hernia?
A hiatal hernia is a condition where part of the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm. It’s a common condition, affecting about 15 percent of adults.
What are the symptoms?
You may start to wake up at night because you can’t breathe. You might have other symptoms, too.
These symptoms can include:
- Waking up gasping for air
- Waking up with your throat dry and sore
- Waking up feeling nauseated
What are the causes?
The most common cause of sleep apnea is obesity. This is because the extra weight in your abdomen puts pressure on your diaphragm. This pressure causes the muscles in your stomach to push through the muscle. This causes the diaphragm to work harder, and you stop breathing for a few seconds during sleep.
Other causes of sleep apnea include:
- Drinking alcohol
- Certain medications, such as nitroglycerin and blood pressure medications
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and other conditions that cause acid reflux
- Heart disease
- A tumor in the diaphragm
- Cancers in the diaphragm
How is it?
Doctors don’t know exactly how the condition causes sleep apnea, so they can’t always prevent it. You may be able to get a diagnosis for sleep apnea by asking your doctor to listen to your breathing while you breathe in and out.
They might use a device that attaches to your face to measure the amount of air you take in and breathe out. This device measures how often you stop breathing during a certain time period.
If you have a hiatal hernia, you may need to avoid certain foods that can make you feel queasy. You can also try to avoid foods that make you feel bloated and gassy.
You should also try to eat smaller meals to help reduce your weight.
What are the treatments?
If you have sleep apnea, you may need to see a sleep specialist, such as a gastroenterologist or an anesthesiologist. Your doctor will want to check your symptoms to find out what’s causing them.
Once they know the cause, they can help you find solutions. They may refer you to a sleep specialist to discuss treatment options.
Some of the treatments they may recommend include:
- Nasal tubes: A device that helps you breathe through your nose during sleep.
- Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP): Using a machine that delivers oxygen through a mask and a tube that you breathe through.
- Deep breathing techniques: Using deep breathing exercises to help you relax and fall asleep.
You may also need an operation to repair your diaphragm. This surgery can reduce the size of your stomach and allow it to come back into place.
You may need to take certain steps to help prevent sleep apnea, including:
- Avoiding alcohol and eating foods that are low in fat and high in fiber.
- Avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol.
- Taking prescription medications to help with sleep apnea.
If you have other health problems, such as GERD, you may be more likely to have sleep apnea. This is because your stomach can push through the diaphragm because of GERD.
Treatment for sleep apnea
Your doctor can help you manage your symptoms and find a treatment plan that’s right for you.
They may recommend the following treatments:
- Nasal tubes: A device that helps you breathe through your nose during sleep
- Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP): Using a machine that delivers oxygen through a mask and a tube that you breathe through
- Deep breathing techniques: Using deep breathing exercises to help you relax and fall asleep
- Surgery to repair the diaphragm
If you have sleep apnea, your doctor may also recommend that you wear a mouthpiece during sleep. This will help you breathe easier during sleep.
You may also need to increase your physical activity. This can help you get more exercise each day.
What are the complications?
Sleep apnea can cause other complications, such as:
- Heart disease: People with sleep apnea are at risk of heart disease.
- High blood pressure: People with sleep apnea are at risk of high blood pressure.
- High cholesterol: People with sleep apnea are at risk of high cholesterol.
- Diabetes: People with sleep apnea are at risk of developing diabetes.
- Stroke: People with sleep apnea are at risk of having a stroke.
- Heart attack: People with sleep apnea are at risk of having a heart attack.
- Kidney disease: People with sleep apnea are at risk of kidney disease.
It’s also possible that you could develop other health conditions because of sleep apnea.
For example, a sleep study may be necessary if you have sleep apnea and other health conditions.
What is the long-term outlook?
Sleep apnea can cause a variety of problems, and you may need to see a sleep specialist to get your treatment plan.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to help repair your diaphragm. This is called a diaphragmatic hernia. The surgery can reduce the size of your stomach and allow it to come back into place.
Surgery is usually only needed if you have sleep apnea and other health conditions.
You should still follow your treatment plan to help prevent sleep apnea from getting worse. You should also try to get more exercise each day to help you manage your weight and reduce your risk of sleep apnea.
If you smoke, you should quit. This is because smoke can make your symptoms of sleep apnea worse.
The bottom line
Hiatal hernias can cause sleep apnea. Treatments for sleep apnea include surgery to repair your diaphragm.
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