(WDIV) You probably know people who have snoring problems-- but what you may not know is snoring could be the alarm for a medical ticking time bomb.
Mary Lou Mitschke said that's exactly what happened to her husband after he started snoring loudly all the time.
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"It was sort of irritating. You couldn't fall asleep and so you would be lying next to him thinking, 'So when am I going to fall asleep with all this noise?'" said Mitschke.
Married 48 years, the couple just stopped short of sleeping in separate rooms.
"I believed what she was saying, but it wasn't bothering me that I knew of," said Fred Mitschke.
According to a study at the Sleep Disorders Center at Rush University Medical Center, a snoring husband or wife can affect marital satisfaction. The study found that couples where one partner suffers with sleep apnea or snoring issues have a much higher divorce rate than those who do not. Fred went to see Dr. Richard Klein, a dentist who founded the Michigan Head and Neck Institute. He only sees patients who have a diagnosis of sleep apnea or temporomandibular joint dysfunction or TMJ.
The visit ultimately improved Fred's marriage and saved his life.
"Snoring isn't dangerous, it's obnoxious and it hurts people's sleep patterns. But if you snore and stop breathing and it gets very quiet, that is dangerous. It's called obstructive sleep apnea," said Klein.
To determine if Fred's snoring was at best, annoying, or at worst, potentially deadly, he was sent for an evaluation at Michigan Neurology Associates, where he saw Dr. Thomas Giancarlo, a neurologist and sleep specialist.
"They say, 'My wife made me come,' or 'I'm sick of sleeping on the couch or being elbowed in the middle of the night,'" said Giancarlo. "It's noisy; they've documented hearing loss in wives of heavy snorers."
So Fred was belted, measured, marked and hooked up to leads and monitors for a sleep study. It took longer to hook up the sensors than it did for him to doze off. Technicians watch carefully from a room nearby, measuring his foot movements, brain activity and the amount of work the stomach does to push air up through the nasal passages, versus the amount of air that actually escapes and enters. The deeper Fred moves into sleep, the more the activity on the monitors heats up. Techs are looking for respiratory events. Five events per hour where you actually stop breathing would be considered normal. When you get up to 15 times per hour, you are at risk for heart failure, strokes, cancer, sexual dysfunction, obesity, mood disorders, even sudden death -- and,according to that marital sleep study, relationship malfunction.
Turns out Fred has more than the drive-Mary-crazy-snores. He stops breathing as many as 18 times an hour.
His snoring was the alarm for the ticking time bomb that was his heart.
"The prognosis for this kind of thing, greater than 20 events per hour, drops oxygen desaturation of below 85, you have a 50 percent mortality rate in five years. Part of it, car crashes-- they fall asleep. Part of it, cardio-related and makes them more stroke-prone," said Giancarlo.
By identifying the heart problem, Fred got it fixed, and none too soon.
"I feel much healthier," said Fred.
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