Our goal with this section is to make sure you are completely informed about sleep apnea – it’s symptoms, the risks, the treatments, and then to get you with a professional if you are concerned about you or someone you love.
First, find out what sleep apnea is on our “what apnea is” page. Then read about the symptoms of sleep apnea to see if you might be suffering from the disease. Then take several tests to see if you have an increased risk, check out the possible treatments, and contact our office to discuss how to move forward.
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History of Sleep Apnea
The first reports in the medical literature of what is now called obstructive sleep apnea date only from 1965, when it was independently described by French and German investigators. However, the clinical picture of this condition has long been recognized as a character trait, without an understanding of the disease process. The term “Pickwickian syndrome” that is sometimes used for the syndrome was coined by the famous early 20th century physician, William Osler, who must have been a reader of Charles Dickens. The description of Joe, “the fat boy” in Dickens’s novel The Pickwick Papers, is an accurate clinical picture of an adult with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.
The early reports of obstructive sleep apnea in the medical literature described individuals who were very severely affected, often presenting with severe hypoxemia, hypercapnia and congestive heart failure. Tracheostomy was the recommended treatment and, though it could be life-saving, postoperative complications in the stoma were frequent in these very obese and short-necked individuals.
The management of obstructive sleep apnea was revolutionized with the introduction of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), first described in 1981 by Colin Sullivan and associates in Sydney, Australia. The first models were bulky and noisy, but the design was rapidly improved and by the late 1980s CPAP was widely adopted. The availability of an effective treatment stimulated an aggressive search for affected individuals and led to the establishment of hundreds of specialized clinics dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders. Though many types of sleep problems are recognized, the vast majority of patients attending these centers have sleep-disordered breathing.