Where is the silent human killer?

The not so silent killer among us

Remarkably, there are still diseases of the Western and developed world which appear to escape widespread awareness and detection.

While heart attack and stroke remain feared, they are commonly associated with this potentially fatal epidemic, which remains almost ignored by the majority of healthcare professionals.

An epidemic arises when a disease affects a larger number of people than is usual for the locality or one that spreads to areas not usually associated with the disease. A pandemic is an epidemic of global proportions.

If there was a disease that was not only considered to be an epidemic but represented a pandemic, would you think that everyone would be aware of it and its possible effect on them, their families or loved ones.

What if it could potentially kill you or a loved one or at least cause suffering now or possible serious health problems in the future, would you want to know about it?  

If the concerns were not only evidence-based on thousands of studies to show just how dangerous it was but that it was known that up to 20% of the adult population were affected or carriers, you’d want to be screened, right?

What if it was known to either cause, worsen or precipitate heart attacks, strokes, car accidents, depression and destroy children’s futures, if it could lead to diabetes, the number one increasing disease of the Western World, you wouldn’t want it either misdiagnosed, mistreated or missed entirely would you?

Unfortunately, the disease is misdiagnosed, mistreated or simply missed every hour in England, Canada, the US, Asia, Australia and Europe.

Why is this disease routinely missed or misdiagnosed. What if most healthcare providers often don’t know or worse still, due to billings, sometimes less than interested in either screening, diagnosing or treating it and more inclined to diagnose and treat ‘billable’ disease?

Unfortunately for us all, this disease is very much present and it affects us even if we don’t have it. So, what is it and how can it be so common, so serious and yet, so little is done?

You may (or may not) be surprised that since it is common, people tolerate it and consequently it worsens the social picture.It brings a whole new meaning to “dying in your sleep” although those that die often do so in the daytime after years of night-time damage.

This illness is called Sleep Disordered Breathing (SDB), I have it, as do several family members, but you may simply know it as Snoring or Obstructive Sleep Apnea which are both forms of SDB.

There is another called upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS), click on the picture below for information.

When there is an accident or need to provide emergency care of life support to someone in the street, the first responder will (after checking for safety) secure the sufferer’s airway. Why?


Because the airway is vital, it’s been said that you can go weeks without eating, days without drinking, but hardly minutes without breathing. In Sleep Disordered Breathing (SDB) there is a sleep related (Sleep) airway compromise (Breathing) dysfunction, dis-ease or illness(Disorder).

I was given a rough introduction to the importance of airway in a personal experience (beyond my own obstructive sleep apnea) when, following a botched surgical procedure I developed a post thyroidectomy hematoma, in which I rapidly lost my airway, a junior surgeon panicked and tried to forcefully administer opioids by mouth!

While I calmly tried to communicate with the young doctor what she should do by sign language … (while losing my airway … I couldn’t swallow, nor could I speak). I was able to write a note to a nurse who had the presence of mind to immediately summon a senior surgeon who performed an immediate surgical decompression on the spot. He saved my life.

This was proof, if ever I needed it, that airway is King!

Yet we have a problem – we think that only overweight, middle aged males who snore have OSA. This is incorrect. Children can also suffer from Sleep Disordered Breathing, as can young, slim, fit females and males. This group are being missed or misdiagnosed daily.

A young woman running in the woods, training and exercising for trail run marathon endurance in morning sunrise – possible sleep disordered breathing?

Unfortunately, even the “typical group” are ignored too! It has been estimated that around 1 in 5 adults have OSA, yet 80% remain undiagnosed – how can this be?

During sleep, the sufferers of this airway collapse disease have no way to protect their own airway, and if and when the airway becomes compromised (narrowed or obstructed) the air pressure changes and snoring can result.  

While snoring is definitely not benign, when there is partial or complete closure of the airway at night with or without snoring – it’s called Obstructive Sleep Apnea – an ‘Obstruction’ while ‘Sleeping’ with ‘Apnea”, stopping breathing.

This is occurring in up to one fifth of all adults (potentially you, your family or your friends) or even the motorist heading toward you … this epidemic must be addressed.


Good sleep is crucial to good health and longevity.

Dr. Stephen Bray 2019

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