Sleep Apnea May Have Contributed To NFL Legend's Death - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

12/27/04-Tyler

Sleep Apnea May Have Contributed To NFL Legend's Death

Former Philadelphia Eagle and Green Bay Packer defensive end Reggie White died Sunday at the age of 43.
A serious breathing disorder may have caused heart failure in the NFL legend. Although the official cause of his death is unknown at this time, a family spokesman says White suffered from sleep apnea. It's a breathing condition that if, untreated, can be deadly.
"It was really hard to stay focused and sometimes I'd have to go home for lunch and just lay down just so I could make it through the afternoon," said Ken Sigman. Not too long ago, it was a struggle for Ken to make it through the day. He suffers from sleep apnea, a breathing disorder that has been linked to heart failure.
"People with sleep apnea are more likely to have heart attacks or more likely to have strokes rather than ordinary people," said Dr. James Stocks with the UT Health Center sleep lab. The doctor said the danger with sleep apnea comes when a person stops breathing.
"The upper airway in the throat collapses during sleep causing blockage of your ability to breathe properly."
The symptoms of sleep apnea include extreme drowsiness, waking several times throughout the night, loud snoring, and a partner or family member may notice breathing has stopped during sleep. "When you struggle to breathe properly over and over again, theres a lot of hormone secretion that stimulates, raises your heart rate and that can affect your heart. The stresses of struggling to breathe itself puts a strain on the heart and can cause some permanent changes to the heart."
A recent study found sleep apnea is common in NFL players, especially lineman like Reggie White.
"The biggest players, the offensive and defensive lineman, more than 1 out of 3 of those players has sleep apnea."
That number is 7 times higher than that of the average population where 4 percent of people suffer from sleep apena.
"Most of our patients show up somewhere in middle age. Evetually even 200 pounds, 250 pounds can catch up with you."
Treatment for the disorder is available. Special masks force the airpassages open at night to keep the patient breathing.
Ken Sigman now wears one at night and says his heart and his sleep are better for it.
"I'm completely rested, always have been after 6 or 7 hours of sleep and I get that in one continuous time now instead of waking up in the night," Ken said. "It totally changed my life."
In addition to heart attack and stroke risks, Dr. Stocks says sleep apnea patients are 15 times more likely to be involved in an accident because of drowsiness.

Maya Golden reporting, mgolden@kltv.com

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