Healthy Living

Sleep Apnea Linked to Death of Carrie Fisher and Other Little Known Facts About the Condition

Sleep Apnea Linked to Death of Carrie Fisher and Other Little Known Facts About the Condition

“Carrie Fisher” by Star Wars

Everyone suddenly hears about the death of Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher. The media immediately starts to investigate the possible causes of celebrity deaths and does not always give us clear answers. Months later, the real causes of death are shown to audiences through press conferences where family members, medics, and the police read all the results of the autopsy. When famous people die, especially unexpected ones, it causes an impact on all of their fans.

When Carrie Fisher died, sleep apnea was involved and it was linked to several conditions she had including drug addiction and smoking, which escalated her atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease. Some celebrities like Shaquille O’Neal, Rosie O’Donnell, William Shatner, Reggie White, Rick Perry, and Quincy Jones also have sleep apnea.

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About Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that is most common in adult men. It is when one or more pauses in breathing occur while you are sleeping. The pauses can last for a few seconds or even minutes and may occur several times during sleep around 25 times or more.

Sleep apnea has an interesting story that dates back to 2,000 years ago when scientists and physicians started to classify it. There are three types of sleep apnea, and when they were working on it in the nineteenth century, they called it the “Pickwickian syndrome”. The term was based on a character in Charles Dickens' book that had the same symptoms. The book was called “The Pickwick Papers” and it was about an overweight character named Joe.

The types of sleep apnea are:

  • Obstructive (OSA)
  • Central (CSA)
  • Mixed (A combination of OSA and CSA)

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea Causes

According to statistics and the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project (NHSAP), more than 25 million Americans have sleep apnea. The incredible part here is that these people are just the ones who have been diagnosed. There are still plenty of people who remain undiagnosed with sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is more common than what you think. Right now, you might have one or two members of your family, friends, or neighbors who have the disorder, and they probably don’t know it yet.

At the beginning, the most common cause associated with sleep apnea was being overweight or obese because half of the people with this condition are overweight. However, later on, different studies showed that obesity wasn’t the only problem as depression, moodiness, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease were also common in sleep apnea sufferers. Even a smoking addiction is associated with sleep apnea. The condition can occur at any age, but the risk increases year by year. Small children who are overweight can have it, too.

Other Possible Causes

  • The muscles in your throat and tongue don’t have a normal activity
  • Your tongue and tonsils have a bigger size
  • The shape of your head and neck may cause a smaller airway, which is the cause of breathing difficulties 
  • When you are getting older, the aging process can limit your brain's reactions and signals to keep the throat stiff when you are sleeping
  • Eating and drinking too close to bedtime
  • Any nasal blockage or congestion due to allergies or any other conditions such as laryngeal/pharyngeal problems
  • Soft or floppy palate
  • Small jaw bone
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

The first possible clue to know if you have the disorder is if you snore. Snoring can lead to sleep apnea, but it is important to have in mind that not all people who snore have it. It is crucial to know if you have the disorder because it can increase the risk of death four times and increases one's risk of heart disease by 5 times. The common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea are:

In children, the disorder can cause hyperactivity, bad behavior, and trouble with school performance.

These days, it is easy to know if you have it. There are several tests that can be conducted while you are sleeping. It includes a polysomnogram or PSG test, which records brain activity, eye movement, heart rate, and blood pressure. There are also physical examinations to check your respiratory system in search of any abnormality or to know one's medical history. Go to the doctor periodically, exercise, and eat healthy food to improve your overall health.

Some people who have sleep apnea don’t know that they have it. So, if your partner or anyone in your family, who doesn't let you sleep because of their snoring, tell them and let them know what they are doing while sleeping and encourage them to visit the doctor for consultation.


Like any other disease or condition, changing your lifestyle is the most important part of the treatment process. Try to avoid alcohol consumption. If you are having obesity problems, try to lose some weight by exercising and healthy eating. Don’t sleep on your back, as it is much better if you sleep on your side when you have sleep apnea. You can try special pillows, too. It is also important to have your nasal passages clean, free, and open. If you smoke, try to quit as fast as you can. You can find lots of gadgets that help you breathe when your condition isn’t severe, and these gadgets will allow you to sleep without snoring. Surgery is not always required, and it depends on the different causes of sleep apnea, where most of the time, the treatments are simple.

The goal of a sleep apnea treatment is to restore your breathing to a normal level, restore a good sleep, and relieve loud snoring. Treating sleep apnea will also help improve other health problems that have been linked to the disorder such as high blood pressure and heart disease. 

The most common treatment in adults is the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. The machine continuously sends mild air pressure into your throat and helps your airway to remain open while you are sleeping. It helps stop snoring, and you have to use it correctly if you want to see positive results. Between 1970 and 1980, a physician named Colin Sullivan developed a mask that seemed to help dogs and later humans to properly breathe while sleeping. After years of improvements, it became the CPAP machine. The results with the mask were so good that people were sleeping a lot better and their snoring was eventually stopped.

If your partner or someone in your family is showing some of the sleep apnea symptoms, let them know and seek professional help. Don’t ignore it as it can lead to other serious problems. If you are pretty sure you have sleep apnea, look for a solution as fast as you can.