Could Sleep Apnea Have Killed This Actress?

Star Wars enthusiasts around the world mourned the death of Carrie Fisher, known for her role as Princess Leia Organa, last year after she suffered from cardiac arrest on an international flight. Recently the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office revealed the cause of death: sleep apnea. The sleep disorder is listed as the primary cause, along with other complications, but the final results were “inconclusive.”

Not much information has been publicized over the years about the dangers associated with sleep apnea and the effect it has on the rest of the body. But the disorder can lead to serious complications.

Three Types of Sleep Apnea 

1. Central Sleep Apnea

When the brain fails to send a signal to the muscles that are in control of your breathing, central sleep apnea can be to blame. Some of the symptoms include mood changes, chronic fatigue, excessive daytime sleepiness, headaches and snoring. This form of sleep apnea can also be caused by other conditions such as:

  • Obesity
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Medications
  • Conditions affecting the brain stem

2. Obstructive Sleep Apnea

This is the most common form of sleep apnea, according to Dr. Kevin Pollock, DDS, MS, of Rockwall Oral and Facial Surgery.

“Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a blockage of the airway during sleep. When the air is restricted, oxygen and blood flow to the brain is reduced, which can cause you to awaken from sleep with gasping, choking, snoring or snorting,” he said.

According to Pollock, there are three levels of obstructive sleep apnea that are based on how often the episodes occur in one night.

Mild: Five to 14 episodes a night

Moderate: 15 to 30 episodes a night

Severe: 30 or more episodes a night

Other symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, headaches or migraines, restless sleep and depression.

3. Complex Sleep Apnea

Sometimes referred to as mixed sleep apnea, this form of the disorder is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. This form of sleep apnea was first noted in patients who were treated for obstructive sleep apnea successfully but still had trouble breathing while sleeping. Due to the rarity of this condition, effective treatment methods are still being looked investigated.  

Sleep Apnea and Your Heart 

According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, many cases of sleep apnea go undiagnosed. Since most of the symptoms occur during sleep, it can be hard to notice and is often first suspected by a spouse or bedmate. It’s usually not a fatal condition but can lead to other health problems that are, said Pollock.

“Sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and heart attacks,” he said. “If left untreated, it can even lead to higher mortality rates. One study found that those with severe sleep apnea that went untreated were more than three times more at risk of death.”

Pollock’s office offers several treatment options for sleep apnea. To learn more, schedule an appointment at 469-338-4505.