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Mismanagement of sleep disorders can have serious financial implications for the Arab regions healthcare costs

Dubai, : Roughly 35 to 40 per cent of UAE residents have suffered from a sleep disorder at some point in their life. Many of the cases are related to (), which interrupts normal breathing during sleep. The problem seems to get worse with another rising health threat in the UAE; obesity.

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) is a very common, serious, and unfortunately misdiagnosed condition,” says Dr. Amro Alastal, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine Consultant, American Hospital Dubai. “In the UAE and wider GCC, OSA affects around 4 to 5 per cent of the population. This is an estimate based on the number of patients we see in our practice, but the definite number is still debatable as population-based studies are still lacking.”

Other risk factors for OSA common in the region are family history; developmental abnormalities in the jaw, throat and neck; alcohol and sedative abuse; and some endocrine disorders.

OSA has major implications on one’s physical and psychological wellbeing. High blood pressure, increased risk of diabetes, heart attacks and strokes, personality changes such as agitation, memory impairment, fatigue, and road traffic accidents are just some of the negative effects related to OSA,” explains Dr Alastal.

One of Dr Alastal’s most concerning cases was a pilot who dozed of for 50 minutes while flying a commercial airplane. The potentially fatal implications of this type of disruption to people’s ability to carry out their normal working routine cannot be ignored.

Dr Alastal said a change in attitude is needed to address the situation in the UAE. “Lifestyle can make sleep disorders worse and stress will only add to the problem. Public awareness plays a big role and we need to get the message out to the public to seek assistance from their doctor.”

The problem is not just with prevention and diagnosis of the condition, but also the financial implications of its management.

“Many insurance companies do not recognise OSA as a disease; they see it as ‘just snoring’ or ‘a waste of time’. But they don’t realise there are much higher healthcare costs – millions of dollars more – to spend on hypertension, heart failure and diabetes, all because sleep disorders are not treated,” says Dr. Hassan Alhariri, Head of Sleep Center, Rashid Hospital, Dubai.

The treatment of OSA depends very much on its severity, but it often starts with behavioral therapy. For mild cases of sleep apnea, sleeping on one’s side can prevent the tongue and palate from falling backwards in the throat and blocking the airway. Another is avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills. Physical or mechanical interventions can also be implemented. These options include positive airway pressure, splinting the airways open (CPAP) and dental appliances.

Both Dr Al Astal and Dr Alhariri will be discussing these topics at the 2nd Chronic Respiratory and Sleep Diseases Conference taking place on 23-24 January 2012 at the annual Arab Health Exhibition and Congress at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre.

For more information about Arab Health, please visit  or call +971 4 407 2743.

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Inga Stevens
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