‘Bangungot’ linked to Asian skull shape

- Dulce Sanchez () - August 8, 2007 - 12:00am

Asians are more prone to bangungot, a fatal sleep disorder, due to their flat faces and genes, sleep experts said yesterday.

“An Asian’s skull is differently shaped compared to a Caucasian’s. Our skull base is shorter, our faces are flatter, and consequently our throats are smaller in diameter,” Dr. Agnes Remulla said at a weekly health forum in Quezon City.

She said Asians’ smaller throats make them prone to obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by snoring and pauses in breathing. The pauses in breathing are caused by relaxation of the soft palate and the tongue during sleep, and the pauses occur when they block the airway.

This sleep disorder, according to Remulla and Dr. Gil Vicente, has a direct link to bangungot, a phenomenon in which a person – more often men of Asian stock – dies while asleep.

“It used to be thought that bangungot was caused by pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). Now, experts think bangungot is caused by a silent heart problem compounded by a sleep disorder,” Remulla said.

Vicente said the blocked airway caused by sleep apnea could lead to oxygen deprivation and increased levels of carbon dioxide in the body. This could cause a person to wake up tired despite having a full night’s sleep or go into system failure and death, particularly if the person has an undiagnosed heart problem.

“You should look at the possibility that bangungot is genetic,” he said, adding that he became a sleep expert because his brother died of bangungot, and other relatives “survived” it.

Vicente also noted that sleep apnea is the “illness of the future” since many conditions can be directly linked to it.

“Unexplained hypertension and morning headaches can be cured by curing sleep apnea,” he said.

This sleep disorder has a profound effect on children who suffer from it, according to Dr. Keith Aguilera. He said experts have found that one-half of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder also have sleep apnea, which can be cured by removing their tonsils and adenoids.

“This results in better performance at school, better attention span, and less hyperactivity,” he said. He added that children who don’t do well in school probably have sleep apnea.

Vicente said people with obstructive sleep apnea should consult a sleep expert to prevent its adverse effects on the body.

Remulla stressed that aside from bangungot, one of sleep apnea’s deadlier effects is sleepiness while driving.

“You don’t need to close your eyes for your brain to shut down due to lack of sleep. The two to three seconds that you fall asleep determine if you live or die behind the wheel,” she said.


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