Along with a longer life comes a greater likelihood of having to contend with heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis, and dementia. Managing health through diet, exercise, regular visits to a health care provider, and a proper medication regimen can help stall or prevent the diseases of aging.
The average life expectancy in the United States has risen to an all-time high of 78.8 years. Successfully managing the health conditions that can can rob older adults of their independence should become our primary goal.
For example, falls are a significant independence stealer. An estimated 1 in 3 Americans over age 65 falls each year. Injuries sustained during a fall can lead to hospitalization, disability, and even death. Maintaining good balance can help prevent a fall, and the problems that often follow. Balance exercises for seniors, such as standing on one foot or walking heel-to-toe, help older adults gain more control over their bodies so they can stay upright. Doing these exercises at least twice a week offers the greatest benefit.
Aging in place is another key concern as people get older. Most older adults want to remain in familiar surroundings—their own home—while maintaining their independence. Yet not every home is equipped to accommodate reduced mobility. Stairs to climb, high shelves to reach, and slippery bathroom floors can make the family home a dangerous place.
Making accommodations to the home can increase the likelihood of aging in place safely and successfully. Modifications like stair lifts, a walk-in shower, and bathroom railings can reduce the likelihood of falls. Technology can be another ally in helping seniors who plan to age in place, especially those who live alone. In the event of a fall or other emergency, wearable senior alert systems can summon medical help with the press of a button.
Bones and joints become vulnerable to wear and tear as we age. Treatments range from pain relievers and physical therapy to joint replacement.
More than 52 million adults, many of them over 65, live with arthritis. About half of them are limited in their activities. Arthritis is a degenerative condition in which the joints—the cushioning surfaces between bones—wear away. Typical arthritis symptoms include pain, stiffness, swelling, and reduced range of motion.
Arthritis comes in many forms, including degenerative osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease), and psoriatic arthritis. In psoriatic arthritis, not only do the joints swell up, but red, scaly patches called plaques also form on the skin. Gout is another type of arthritis that’s caused by a buildup of uric acid in the blood. The excess uric acid forms into crystals that congregate in the joints—most often in the big toe—causing pain and swelling. A number of medications are available to treat arthritis pain and inflammation.
With time, bones become weaker, more brittle, and could fracture. The early stage of bone loss is called osteopenia, and it affects about half of Americans over age 50. Doctors can determine the amount of bone loss with a bone mineral density (BMD) test. Results are expressed as a T-score, which is based on a comparison with the bones of a healthy 30-year old. People with normal bone density have a T-score that is within 1 standard deviation (SD) of a 30-year old’s score. A score 1 to 2.5 SD below a young adult’s (-1 to -2.5 SD) is considered low bone mass, or osteopenia. Osteoporosis is diagnosed in anyone with a score of -2.5 SD or lower. People with osteoporosis need to take medicines such as bisphosphonates to strengthen their bones and prevent fractures.
COPD is not one, but two conditions: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Early intervention, medications and smaller portable oxygen systems can help relieve COPD symptoms.
First, what is emphysema? It’s a disease in which the air sacs of the lungs become damaged. Normally, as air travels from the mouth through the airways, it flows into air sacs called alveoli. These sacs stretch and fill up like tiny balloons. Oxygen passes through the alveoli walls into the bloodstream. Carbon dioxide from the blood passes out through the alveoli to be removed via exhalation. In emphysema, the air sacs lose their stretchiness and their inner walls are destroyed. This damage makes it harder for the lungs to absorb oxygen.
In chronic bronchitis, the lining of the airways becomes inflamed and thickens. Sticky mucus forms, which blocks the airways and interferes with normal breathing.
Typical COPD signs and symptoms are a cough that produces a lot of phlegm, shortness of breath, chest pain and tightness, and wheezing. Chronic bronchitis symptoms include many of these same signs—especially a cough and shortness of breath.
Because most COPD cases are caused by exposure to tobacco smoke, the first step in treating the condition is to stop smoking. Medicines can relieve the cough, shortness of breath, and other COPD symptoms. Bronchodilators relax the muscles of the airways, opening them up to make it easier to breathe. Steroid medicines bring down inflammation in the airways. These medicines are typically breathed in through a device called an inhaler.
People with very low oxygen levels in their blood may need to breathe oxygen through a mask or a cannula in the nose. Some people use oxygen only during exertion, such as when exercising. Others need it throughout the day. One way for people with COPD to improve their quality of life is by taking part in a program called pulmonary rehabilitation. In this program, a team of nurses, physical therapists, and other specialists offer exercise and diet tips, along with other strategies to help manage the disease.
More than half a million people die from cancer annually. But targeted therapies and other treatments offer hope to countless more.
Cancer starts when genetic changes cause cells to divide out of control and form tumors, which can then spread to other parts of the body. The disease can affect any organ. Ovarian cancer is the most deadly reproductive cancer in women. Often, it’s caught at a late stage because no screening tests exist. Ovarian cancer symptoms include abdominal bloating, pain in the abdomen or pelvis, and a rapid feeling of fullness while eating.
Skin cancers such as melanoma and basal cell carcinoma are on the rise, fueled by sun exposure. Basal cell carcinoma is by far the most common type of skin cancer, with 3.5 million new cases diagnosed each year.
Leukemia is a cancer of the blood. Depending on the type of leukemia, it can affect white blood cells of the immune system, red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body, or platelets that clot the blood. Leukemia symptoms vary depending on the type of the disease, but can include fatigue, fever, chills, easy bleeding or bruising, and swollen lymph nodes.
Colon cancer primarily affects people over age 50. This type of cancer starts in the lower part of the intestine (colon). It forms growths called polyps, which can be identified on a screening colonoscopy. Colon cancer symptoms include blood in the stool, stomach cramps, diarrhea or constipation, and unintended weight loss.
Although lung cancer is not the most common cancer, it’s the leading cause of cancer-related death. Smoking is the biggest risk factor for lung cancer. Exposure to chemicals such as asbestos accounts for a smaller number of cases. Lung cancer symptoms include a cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath.
Depression goes far beyond occasional feelings of sadness and often includes debilitating physical discomfort. Treatment involves a combination of antidepressant medications and talk therapies.
The depression definition that mental health experts use is a persistently down mood and loss of interest that affects a person’s day-to-day life, and can even lead to thoughts of suicide. The condition is also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, and it affects nearly 15 million Americans. Although depression typically starts in the 20s or 30s, it can affect people of all ages. Older adults are particularly vulnerable to depression because of illness and the loss of loved ones.
Many different types of depression exist. Postpartum depression is a sad mood that begins in the weeks or months after a woman gives birth. Bipolar disorder alternates between periods of depression and unusually high moods. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that emerges during the winter months, when sunlight is in short supply.
Identifying depression is the first step toward treating it. Depression symptoms include: feeling sad, anxious, hopeless, guilty, or anxious; fatigue or decreased energy; loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed; trouble concentrating or remembering; trouble sleeping or sleeping too much; loss of appetite, or eating too much; irritability; vague physical symptoms, such as a headache or stomachache; and thoughts of death, or wanting to end your life.
Doctors typically diagnose depression by first ruling out medical conditions that can cause the same symptoms, such as a thyroid disorder. Then the doctor will likely do a depression test, asking questions about feelings, sleep, energy level, and other common indicators of the disease.
With diabetes, the body either doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use it effectively, causing blood sugar levels to rise. Along with medications, people are advised to eat plenty of vegetables, whole grains, non-fat dairy, lean poultry, and fish.
There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly destroys cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps move blood sugar (or glucose) to cells where it can provide energy. When insulin is unavailable for this purpose, blood sugar levels rise and diabetes ensues. People with this type of diabetes will need to take insulin to keep their blood sugar level under control.
In type 2 diabetes, the body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin and isn’t able to use this hormone effectively, also causing a rise in blood sugar. The pancreas has to work harder to increase its production of insulin, which eventually damages the organ.
What causes diabetes? Both genes and environmental factors play a role. Being overweight can also increase the risk of getting type 2 diabetes, because excess fat increases the body’s resistance to insulin.
How do you know you have diabetes? Increased thirst, frequent urination, and hunger are all signs of diabetes. Other diabetes symptoms include unexplained weight loss, fatigue, frequent infections, and blurred vision.
Consistently high blood sugar can damage the body’s organs over time. Untreated diabetes increases the risk for nerve damage, called diabetic neuropathy, as well as damage to the kidneys, eyes, feet, and skin. Proper treatment can control blood sugar and help prevent complications. Some people will need to count carbohydrates, or choose foods that are low on the glycemic index, meaning they won’t cause blood sugar to spike.
Everyone experiences upset stomach, gas, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. Occasional, and even chronic, conditions can be controlled with medications, diet or surgery.
Symptoms can range from mild annoyances, or more serious conditions affecting the digestive system, which is made up of the stomach, esophagus, intestines, and gallbladder. For instance, appendicitis is a condition that causes the appendix—a small pouch attached to the large intestine—to become inflamed. The most common appendicitis symptoms include pain in the abdomen, appetite loss, nausea, vomiting, and a low fever. Appendicitis is treated with antibiotics, and/or surgery to remove the appendix.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a burning feeling in the chest, which occurs when acid backs up from the stomach into the esophagus. Medicines that block acid production or neutralize existing stomach acid can help with symptoms, but surgery is an option if these conservative treatments don’t work.
Too much stomach acid can also contribute to ulcers—sores in the lining of the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine. Pain, burning, bloating, and vomiting are some hallmark ulcer symptoms. Bacteria called H. pylori cause ulcers; antibiotics can treat the infection. Other medicines reduce the amount of acid in the stomach.
The gallbladder is a small organ in the upper right side of the abdomen. It’s main job is to store bile, a fluid that helps with digestion. A number of problems can affect the gallbladder, including stones and inflammation—called cholecystitis.
Sometimes small pouches, called diverticula, form in the walls of the large intestines. They’re caused by pressure on the intestinal walls, such as from straining while having bowel movements. A condition called diverticulitis occurs if these pouches become inflamed or infected. Diverticulitis is common in older adults, affecting almost everyone over age 80. Antibiotics can clear the infection, but if diverticulitis doesn’t get better, surgery may be an option.
Too much stress, too many medications, or sleep apnea can leave us drained of energy. Relief comes in the form of better diet, exercise, counseling or help with nighttime breathing.
More than a third of us don’t get the recommended seven to nine hours of slumber nightly. On top of that, our fast-paced lifestyle leaves us little time for relaxation. Along with a lack of sleep and overwork, fatigue causes range from illness, anemia, thyroid disease, and heart failure. Taking certain medicines—including antidepressants, blood pressure medicines, and anti-anxiety drugs—can also contribute to fatigue.
When no specific medical condition seems to be causing fatigue, the cause could be a disorder called chronic fatigue syndrome. People with this condition have consistent fatigue that doesn’t go away, along with vague complaints such as muscle aches, headaches, and memory loss. Disrupted sleep, a sore throat, and joint or muscle pain are other chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms. Everyone experiences chronic fatigue syndrome in a different way; therefore, treatment is tailored to the individual.
Eating the wrong foods can also be draining. Highly processed, sugary foods burn up in the body quickly, leaving little energy remaining. A high-energy diet includes slower-burning, nutrient-dense foods such as peanut butter, lean chicken breast, and green, leafy vegetables. Getting enough calories and eating smaller meals throughout the day (rather than three large meals) are other strategies for increasing energy.
Diet is just one of many natural energy boosters. Exercise is another. Taking a brisk 15-minute walk daily can reinvigorate and recharge you. Relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation increase energy by erasing anxiety and stress. Some people find that a 20-minute “power nap” during the day reinvigorates them. Just be careful not to nap for too long or too close to bedtime, because you could disrupt your nighttime sleep.
Our eyes, ears, and nose are our connection to the world around us, and a number of health conditions can compromise our ability to see, hear, and smell. Treatments range from medications and assistive devices to surgery.
For instance, hearing loss is a common affliction with age. Yet ringing in the ears, called tinnitus, can affect people of all ages. Damage to the inner ear produces the sound, which can range from ringing to buzzing or hissing. Treating the underlying medical condition that’s causing the sound can often make it go away.
Vertigo is a dizzying, spinning sensation. Though it has nothing to do with hearing, vertigo is caused by damage to the inner ear. The condition is triggered when calcium carbonate crystals move into the fluid-filled chambers of the inner ear—the part of the ear that keeps us upright, balanced, and oriented. Vertigo treatment often involves a technique called canalith repositioning maneuvers, in which the doctor moves the head into different positions to move the crystals into an area of the ear where they won’t cause symptoms.
By age 80, nearly everyone will have developed cataracts, a clouding of the eye’s clear lens. This clouding is what causes cataract symptoms like blurred vision, trouble with night vision, and halos around lights. Removing the cataracts with surgery can correct the problem and restore clear vision.
Glaucoma is another common vision problem that affects older adults. In glaucoma, a buildup of pressure inside the eye damages the optic nerve and can eventually cause blindness. Looking for glaucoma symptoms alone won’t always catch the disease in time, because the condition often causes no pain or vision loss until the damage is already significant. That’s why early detection with dilated eye exams and measurement of pressure inside the eye are important.
An estimated 16 million doctor visits each year are due to sinus problems, including sinus infection. The sinuses are the spaces behind the nose and eyes, and they can become breeding grounds for bacteria. Antibiotics can clear up a sinus infection, while decongestants relieve the congestion it causes.
Many people are sensitive or allergic to lactose in milk or gluten in wheat, rye and barley. Dietary awareness, and a myriad of gluten-free, lactose-free products, offer a line of defense.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. The severity of this food intolerance, or allergic reactions to certains foods, varies from mild to potentially life threatening.
In people with celiac disease, the immune system launches attacks against the small intestine when gluten is present. These attacks damage the intestinal lining and prevent nutrients from being properly absorbed.
Celiac disease symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and constipation. People with celiac disease must go on a gluten-free diet, avoiding all foods containing gluten, such as white flour, wheat flour, wheat germ, wheat bran, graham flour, semolina, and spelt.
Gluten intolerance is a catchall term that refers to people with all levels of sensitivity to gluten—including celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and wheat allergy. People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity develop symptoms like stomach upset, but damage is not occurring in their intestines. Wheat allergy is an immune system reaction to foods containing wheat. Gluten intolerance symptoms range from stomach upset to hives, a rash, congestion, and difficulty breathing.
People with lactose intolerance do not have enough of the lactase enzyme needed to properly digest lactose—the sugar found in milk. As a result, when they eat dairy products, they develop unpleasant symptoms such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Avoiding dairy products is one way to prevent these symptoms. People who still want to eat dairy can take a pill that contains lactase, or choose dairy products that have already had the lactose broken down.
Risks for heart disease include obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Preventing or managing these conditions can improve heart health and reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
Heart disease remains the number one killer of both men and women, ahead of cancer, diabetes, and accidents. In people with heart disease, blood vessels become narrowed or blocked, reducing blood flow to the heart and brain, and increasing the risk for heart attack and stroke.
You may not realize you’re at risk for high blood pressure and heart disease, because high blood pressure symptoms usually don’t emerge until blood pressure has already reached a dangerous level. That’s why this disease is often termed a “silent killer.” At the dangerous stage, high blood pressure symptoms can include shortness of breath, nosebleeds, and severe headache.
Having high blood pressure over time forces the heart to work harder. Eventually, the heart begins to grow—a condition known as enlarged heart. If an enlarged heart isn’t treated with medicine, devices, or surgery, it can lead to complications such as heart failure.
Some people with an enlarged heart develop a heart murmur—a whooshing or swishing sound caused by abnormal blood flow through the heart. A heart murmur isn’t necessarily dangerous, but doctors do monitor it because it can be a sign of an underlying heart condition.
In heart disease, a sticky substance called plaque builds up in the arteries. When an area of plaque breaks off and becomes lodged in a blood vessel supplying the heart, it can block blood flow and cause part of the heart muscle to die. This is a heart attack. Heart attack symptoms include chest pain; discomfort in the arms, back, shoulders, and neck; shortness of breath; and nausea.
Poor blood flow to the heart can produce chest pain called angina. Although angina is not a heart attack, it is a sign of heart disease and can warn of a future heart attack. Other angina symptoms include discomfort in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, and back.
Failing memory is a serious concern as we grow older. While medical solutions for memory loss remain elusive, diet, exercise, socialization and lifelong learning can push back cognitive impairment.
What is dementia? It refers to memory loss and other cognitive problems that are severe enough to interrupt a person’s daily life. Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, and dementia with Lewy bodies are all types of dementia.
More than 5 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer’s disease—the most common form of dementia. By 2050, that number is expected to rise to 16 million Americans.
In Alzheimer’s disease, abnormal proteins called tau and beta-amyloid clump together to form deposits in the brain. These deposits gradually damage nerve cells and destroy areas of the brain. Vascular dementia often occurs after a stroke that damages blood vessels in the brain. The damaged vessels prevent enough blood from reaching brain tissues. People who have dementia with Lewy bodies have an abnormal buildup of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain. It’s possible to have a combination of these different dementia types, known as “mixed dementia.”
Dementia symptoms vary by type, but can include difficulty remembering names and events, trouble communicating, depression, poor judgment, confusion, behavior changes, and sleep disturbances. People who are suspected of having dementia will undergo a series of dementia tests, or Alzheimer’s tests, to determine whether they have lost memory and cognitive function. Doctors will ask the person and his or her family members about any memory problems and trouble completing daily activities.
Other tests involve evaluating memory, attention, problem-solving, and language skills. During these tests, the health care provider will ask the person a series of questions and assign tasks, such as remembering the names of common objects or drawing a face of a clock. Brain scans such as computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or positron emission tomography (PET) may also be done to assess brain structure and function.
Mobility and fitness begin to decline with age, leading to loss of strength and stability. Researchers now believe any kind of exercise is beneficial, even in later years.
What is physical fitness? It’s defined as a state of health necessary to exercise and complete daily activities without getting overly fatigued. Good fitness requires strong muscles, flexibility, and endurance.
To stay fit, you need to improve your aerobic fitness and strength. Having strong core muscles—the muscles of the abdomen, back, and pelvis—help you stay upright and make it easier for you to be physically active. Core exercises for seniors strengthen these muscles without causing excess stress. Programs such as Pilates, tai chi, and stability ball training work core muscles in a safe, effective way. Specific abdominal exercises such as crunches and planks create a flatter, more toned stomach.
Pilates is a workout program that specifically targets core muscles. Exercises can be done using special equipment, or with the body’s own weight as resistance. Pilates strengthens the abdominal muscles and improves overall strength and flexibility. It also incorporates breathing techniques. Signature Pilates exercises include “The Hundred,” which involves lying on the back, lifting the legs, and pressing down with straight arms for a count of 100.
Diet is another important component to accompany mobility and fitness. To perform at your best physically, you need to eat a balanced diet, complete with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein. People seeking to lose weight may try one or more different diet plans, from Weight Watchers to vegetarian.
Good nutrition is essential to maintaining health, especially as you get older. My Plate from the USDA has replaced the traditional food pyramid, featuring a divided plate graphic representing the major food groups.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture created My Plate to help Americans choose the right combination of foods each day for optimum nutrition. It divides foods into groups -- bread, cereal, rice, and pasta; fruit; vegetables; milk, yogurt, and cheese; meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts; fats, oils, and sweets -- and describes how much of each food group people should eat.
Certain food groups can help you lose weight. Eating high protein foods such as lean chicken breast, beans, fish, and tofu curb hunger, so you eat less. Protein is an important component of any diet, but it shouldn’t entirely replace other food groups, including whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
A low-carb diet such as Atkins or South Beach is another approach to weight loss that emphasizes protein and unsaturated fats. These diets limit carbs from grains, starchy vegetables, fruit, and other sources. Yet this diet may not be a good long-term approach. While low-carb diets do encourage weight loss in the short term, after a year or two they offer little advantage over more balanced dietary patterns.
Watching your calorie intake is another way to control your weight. An online calorie counter can help you determine how many calories are in the foods you eat, and how many calories you consume each day. Pair up a calorie counter with a weight loss calculator, in which you input your weight, height, age, activity level, and the amount of weight you’d like to lose. The weight loss calculator will help you determine how many calories you should eat each day to reach your goal.
For more than 100 million Americans, conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia, nerve damage, migraine headaches, or cancer can cause unrelenting pain. But relief is now available in new classes of drugs, yoga exercises, and inflammation-reducing diets.
Take migraine headaches, for instance, a common source of chronic pain affecting 1 in 10 Americans, most of them women. These are not just everyday headaches. Migraine symptoms also include nausea, vomiting, light and sound sensitivity, auras, and other visual disturbances. Because doctors still don’t fully understand what causes migraines, they haven’t been able to develop a cure for this condition. Treatments aim to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks and relieve symptoms when they start.
Fibromyalgia is another poorly understood condition. The estimated 5 million Americans who have this condition experience fatigue and pain in particular spots around their body. Other fibromyalgia symptoms include sleep problems, headaches, sensitivity to heat and cold, bowel issues, and memory problems.
Back problems are another source of chronic pain. Sciatica affects the lower back and legs. It starts in the sciatic nerve, which runs down the lower back, hips, buttocks, and legs. A herniated disk that puts pressure on the sciatic nerve often triggers sciatica. Spinal stenosis—a narrowing of the spine—can also put pressure on the sciatic nerve. Sciatica can be very painful, but medicines, physical therapy, and other treatments usually improve the pain within a few weeks.
Sometimes back pain can be traced to the kidneys, which are located on the back side of the body. Many people mistake kidney pain for back muscle strains. The most common causes of kidney pain are infection, kidney stones, polycystic kidney disease (in which growths called cysts form in the kidneys), bleeding, and kidney cancer. Because kidney pain can signal a more serious condition, it’s important to call the doctor for any constant, dull pain on one side of the back.
The prostate is a walnut-shaped gland that sits underneath a man’s bladder and wraps around the urethra. Prostate problems include infection, enlargement or cancer, but solutions and survival rates are improving.
The prostate gland’s main function is to add fluid to sperm to form semen. Although the prostate starts out small, it typically grows as a man ages. Prostate growth is known as benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH. Over time, BPH puts pressure on the urethra, leading to urinary problems.
Prostatitis is swelling of the prostate gland that is often caused by bacteria. The condition can come on quickly (acute prostatitis) and usually clears up with antibiotics. However, it can sometimes continue long term, in which case it’s called chronic prostatitis.
Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men, affecting 1 in 7 during their lifetime. Most prostate cancer cases are diagnosed later in life.
Prostate cancer can be found with a PSA test, which measures the level of a protein called prostate specific antigen (PSA) in a man’s blood. At one time, men over age 50 were advised to have a PSA test annually. Yet this test can often produce false positive results, because PSA levels can also rise from BPH and other non-cancerous prostate conditions. Today, cancer organizations recommend that men talk to their doctor about the benefits and risks before having this test.
Prostate cancer symptoms include trouble urinating, blood in the urine, pain in the back or hips, and difficulty getting or sustaining an erection. To diagnose prostate cancer, the doctor will remove a sample of tissue during a biopsy. Once that tissue is examined, doctors assign the prostate cancer a Gleason Score and a stage, which indicate the severity and progression of the disease.
More than half of Americans experience sleep problems, from sleep apnea to snoring to narcolepsy. Drugs and devices are stepping in to relieve symptoms.
The insomnia definition experts use is consistent difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or a combination of both. People with insomnia toss and turn in bed, and never feel as though they’ve gotten a satisfying night’s sleep.
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder in which people repeatedly stop breathing throughout the night. Each time their brain restarts breathing, they briefly wake up. Because pauses in breathing can occur many times an hour, people with sleep apnea have constantly disrupted sleep.
People who are overweight are at greatest risk for sleep apnea, because excess tissue tends to fall over their airways and block breathing. Sleep apnea is often undiagnosed, but it’s important to get it identified and treated, because having this condition over time can increase the risk for conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. One telltale sign you have sleep apnea is snoring. Other sleep apnea symptoms include sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, depression, and headaches.
Sleep apnea treatments include a CPAP machine, which gently blows air into your throat through a mask during the night. This constant flow of air keeps your airway open and prevents you from snoring while you sleep. A mouthpiece called an oral appliance can also keep the airways open. Losing weight and quitting smoking are lifestyle measures that can help relieve apnea symptoms. Sometimes surgery is done to remove excess tissue and widen breathing passages.
People with narcolepsy fall asleep at unexpected times during the day. Problems with their sleep-wake cycle make them sleep poorly at night, and feel unusually tired during the day as a result. Antidepressants and other medicines can help control narcolepsy symptoms.
The leading causes of stress include finances, work, family responsibilities, and health issues. Stress can be detrimental when worry is constant, but help is available with talk therapy and medications.
Anxiety symptoms include trouble relaxing, sleep issues, and difficulty concentrating. People with anxiety often report physical symptoms too, such as headaches, fatigue, muscle aches, sweating, and nausea.
A psychologist or psychiatrist can diagnose the condition by asking about anxiety symptoms. Taking an online anxiety test can also help you identify whether you have a problem. Anxiety tests include questions about symptoms such as excessive worry and inability to control that worry, fatigue, trouble concentrating, difficulty sleeping or eating, and problems with alcohol or drug use.
Social anxiety is a particular type of anxiety in which people fear social interactions because they worry others will judge them. About 15 million Americans have social anxiety disorder. The condition can interfere with normal relationships, work, and education. Social anxiety symptoms include sweating, blushing, shortness of breath, dizziness, fast heartbeat, nausea or vomiting, and trembling in social situations.
Another physical manifestation of stress and anxiety is a panic attack. A panic attack produces paralyzing fear that causes real, physical symptoms. Panic attack symptoms can include a pounding heartbeat (palpitations), sweating, shortness of breath, shaking, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, and chills. Sometimes these symptoms resemble those of a heart attack.
Worry and anxiety can become so severe that a person is no longer able to go to work or function in his or her day-to-day life. This phenomenon is sometimes called a nervous breakdown. It’s not a real medical term, but rather a description of symptoms. The inability to function is serious, and it requires help from a mental health provider.
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