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When sleeping leaves you exhausted

25 February 2013

Health Care

With a high-powered sales and marketing job in one of New Zealand’s largest power companies, Patsy Scott knew what tiredness felt like. But no amount of sleep could make her feel refreshed.

She recalls: "Although I was one of the company's top salespeople, I could quite easily have dropped off at work. I don't know how I concentrated. Everything used to be very blurry - like that dreamlike half-awake state.

"I used to tell my colleague to wake me if my head hit the keyboard."

It was while on a business trip that Patsy's problem reached a critical peak. She almost collapsed with an excruciating headache.

"I was virtually semi-conscious and colleagues thought I was having a brain bleed."

She was referred to a neurologist for migraine treatment and it was then that one of her twin daughters just happened to mention Patsy's snoring problem. Tests at a sleep clinic revealed she was suffering from obstructive sleep apnoea - a condition in which the throat closes completely during sleep so that the sleeper stops breathing temporarily. In severe cases like Patsy's, this can happened hundreds of times in one night.

"I was having 90 episodes an hour. I knew I wasn't sleeping properly and would wake gasping for breath. It had gone on for years but I did not realise how dangerous it was."

In fact, Patsy and her first husband took to sleeping in separate rooms many years ago to give him some peace.

Now happily married for a second time, Patsy enjoys restful nights of sleep thanks to her continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which she has been given by Southend University Hospital's specialist clinic - one of the largest of its kind in this country.

Lead respiratory nurse, Lisa Ward, said: "We have about 2,000 patients on the books and treat about 30 new patients a month."

Patsy, an active 59-year-old of Leitrim Avenue, Shoebury, is far from the typical middle-aged, overweight male sufferer. She and her husband Bill now run a busy mobile car valet service.

Although she was issued with a CPAP machine in New Zealand, it was cumbersome and difficult to use. When she returned to the UK last year, her care was transferred to Southend University Hospital.

She says: "I used the machine in New Zealand for a while but found it hard and uncomfortable. And I had no support at all - unlike at Southend where they are absolutely brilliant.

"I have far more energy now and feel a new woman."

The machine consists of a mask which goes over the nose to splint open the airways. It is attached to a small air pump - rather like a hair dryer - which gently blows out cool air so the patient breathes against gentle resistance.

Lisa said: "People stop snoring, sleep really well, their memory improves and their vim and vigour returns.

"Obstructive sleep apnoea needs to be treated quickly as sleepiness at the wheel accounts for a fair percentage of all driving accidents and can ruin lives."

Both the British Lung Foundation and British Thoracic Society are trying to raise awareness of the condition.

Consultant physician, Dr Masood Ali, the hospital's sleep service clinical lead, said: "OSA is a common condition affecting approximately four per cent of middle-aged men and two per cent of middle-aged woman. It can significantly reduce quality of life as it can lead to severe sleepiness and is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke."

Patients suspected of having it are first assessed by a detailed questionnaire and a sleep study in their own home. They are then reviewed by a consultant at the hospital who further assesses their sleep-related problems and explains the diagnosis and associated complications.

Every year, clinic staff perform almost 1,000 sleep tests on patients and, if appropriate, they are issued with the CPAP machine and monitored regularly at the clinic.

Lisa said: "We are now the centre of choice - many patients who used to travel to London for treatment are now seen here.

"Patients are given full training so they use the equipment correctly from the start. This has helped to bring down our waiting list because they do not need repeated visits. We recently conducted a patient satisfaction survey which showed they are very satisfied with our sleep service here at Southend and would recommend it to family and friends. We are proud of ourselves but will keep striving to improve what we do."

Patsy said: "Nothing is too much trouble for the staff at the clinic - I can contact them at any time. I even have a humidifier to use with the machine so the air is not too cold, and masks are supplied too.

"Now I wake up before the alarm."


With pic:Patient Patsy Scott