Why do I have sleep apnea?

by Deborah Z.

I am perplexed about sleep apnea and low oxygen levels while sleeping. I am a 50 years old female. I was always on the thin side at 21 years old I weighed 103 lbs 5’1 tall, and stayed slim for most of my life.

I have smoked cigarettes since 16 years old and have quit and returned many times. I was active, and healthy. I cannot remember ever sleeping well.

I woke up at least once a night and took a couple hours to get back to sleep. I always looked tired and was diagnosed with severe depression. By the time I turned 30 ish, I became angry and bitter blaming this so called depression on my bad childhood.

I also quit 6 jobs in the last year. I never blew up or argued with anyone and rarely took naps or fell asleep during the day. My only history was that my father died at 51 years old of a massive heart attack. As a result, I recently had a cardiac work up which revealed no abnormalities at all. BP 100/70.

I have been taking Paxil for the depression which stopped my anger, but did not stop my emotional upset.

In the last few years, my weight has increased to 145 lbs. My face and neck grew large and distorted. I continued to walk or exercise daily and work as a physical therapist assistant which is a physical job.

Everything I did became forced but I tried and tried to keep myself healthy. After seeing many, many doctors, my current doc asked a question. “Do you snore?” I slept alone for many years, but 8 years ago, I was married and my husband says that I certainly do.

I did an at home sleep study that revealed some sleep apnea but not enough to warrant a cpap. There was a diagnosis of hypopnea/hypoxia with oxygen as low as 60% for most of the night. (Quite a lot of snoring throughout also).

I figured this was the result of smoking and immediately quit. There was no change at all. I did not feel any better.

After my dr. saw this result, he sent me to a pulmonologist who did not believe this result and gave me a second sleep test at his sleep clinic. He looked in my throat and said that I probably have sleep apnea.

These results he said, showed that nothing is wrong with me. I saw the results which showed the same thing as the first. Both tests did mention sleep disordered breathing. The technician stated that she saw sleep apnea and even woke me up because my ox level was spiraling so low.

Spirometry test revealed no copd. While awake my ox level is 98%, I only recently, became sob when singing and speaking long sentences where I had to take a breath between words. I also have gerd for the last few months.

I woke up choking twice in the last year. When the pulmonary dr asked me if something traumatic happened to me when I was young, I thought here we go again! He prescribed trazadone and stated that this would put me out for the night. I awoke after 4 hours choking and throwing up, worse than ever.

The prevacid he prescribed worked great though. When I told my patient about this, she loaned me her ox machine. After one night with ox at number 2, I felt better than ever! After one week, I had even lost 5 lbs and the color returned to my skin.

I returned to my family dr and told him what happened. He ordered a pulse ox at home test that revealed low ox at night.

After receiving my own ox machine, here I am a month later feeling unbelievably great. No sob, and I can sing again! I am no longer depressed and take no meds at all. I exercise more than ever and nothing is forced including having a better relationship with my husband. I feel like my life has been marred by something I never knew was wrong.

My question is could this all have happened because of smoking? Could this be a sleep disorder that is idiopathic or inherited?

I look exactly like my father who had a thick neck and round head (symptoms that caught my attention while doing my research). He snored very loudly with breathing absences throughout the night. He died in 1977 and had an enlarged heart.

He was bitter and sad most of the time, but a heavy drinker. I just do not want this to worsen for me and I am now curious if I have saved my life!

Any thoughts you may have on this would be appreciated. Thanks for reading and if anything, it has helped just to write this all down.



I'm impressed by your determination to maintain a healthy lifestyle despite your difficulties. On the other hand, it's strange that you didn't receive a CPAP machine from the sleep technician or doctor.

The problem with a home sleep study is that you can't be properly diagnosed with a sleep breathing disorder.

There are similar disorders with sleep apnea, but they manifest in a subtle different way. However the side effects are similar, and even worse if these disorders are not identified or treated properly.

One of these disorders is Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS): your airway closes, but before you actually stop breathing, your brain realizes you're having trouble breathing, and you slightly wake up to take a deeper breath and keep yourself from stopping breathing altogether.

You can read more about UARS here.

UARS is a recent discovered sleep breathing disorder and it may manifest together with sleep apnea or not. But it's so difficult to diagnose, that you'll need special apparatus to identify it. Not many sleep centers have special equipment to diagnose UARS and the doctors are not always trained on this subject.

I'm not saying that you probably have UARS, but I want to say that a sleep test in a sleep center is more effective, and the doctors can also diagnose other problems.

Obstructive apnea and GERD are linked. Throwing up might be a sign you have GERD. Moreover, thick neck, snoring, depression, anger, frustration, heart problems, stroke... can all be a sign of sleep apnea. Equally, UARS can show the same things.

Regarding the causes of sleep apnea, I explained why people can have this sleep disorder on this page.

You'll notice that it can be a genetic problem, and you can worsen it by smoking or drinking alcohol. But I didn't find a relevant clinical study which proves that sleep apnea can be caused only by smoking.

Congratulation for improving your quality of life! Let me know when you are ready to choose a CPAP. This machine saved the life of many patients with sleep apnea, and their heart damage was incredible reversed by this effective therapy. So please consider CPAP for the future.

I hope it helps. Don't be afraid to comment back.

Remy Thierry
Founder of Sleep Apnea Guide

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