It has been reported that Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher died from sleep apnoea and "other factors", according to the Los Angeles County coroner.

In a statement following the death of Carrie Fisher, best known for her role as Princess Leia, the LA coroner said the exact cause of death was unknown. As well as listing sleep apnoea as a cause of death, the coroner's statement cited other factors, including heart disease and drug use.

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) is fast becoming a common condition in which a person stops breathing during sleep, either for a few seconds or minutes at a time. OSA, if left untreated, can have serious and life-shortening consequences and can also result in: high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, road traffic accidents caused by falling asleep at the wheel, diabetes, and depression, amongst other ailments. 

A person suffering with OSA frequently stops breathing for short periods while sleeping.  An “apnoea” is a pause in breathing of at least 10 seconds. The oxygen levels in the blood will reduce due to these "apnoeas", with sleep becoming disrupted, leading to fatigue and daytime sleepiness. Moodiness, depression, obesity and diabetes are also more common among sleep apnoea sufferers, as is high blood pressure and heart disease.

Many of these signs and symptoms were prevalent in the medical history of Carrie Fisher, who was also known to suffer with substance misuse and mental health issues. Sadly, substance abuse or misuse can exacerbate sleep related breathing issues. For instance, someone may take stimulants to stay awake because of daytime sleepiness, and then they need depressants to fall asleep, or they may take prescribed drugs for depression… and so the vicious cycle begins.

As devastating as OSA can be for the sufferer and their overall health and wellbeing, there are very effective treatments available. In more severe OSA cases, a continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) machine may be used to keep the airways open. Although very effective, these machines can be intrusive and patients become 'non-compliant'. An alternative and extremely effective treatment is available from dentists. Dental mouthpieces, known as Mandibular Advancement Splints (MAS) have now been proven clinically effective in treating snoring and OSA.

A study conducted in 2004 by Maree Barnes et al in Australia proved that a self-adjustable MAS like Sleepwell was clinically effective in treating OSA and Snoring, whilst having positive effects on nocturnal blood pressure. The Sleepwell MAS is available from a network of trained dentists in the UK.  Sleepwell is not only one of the most clinically effective MAS, it remains one of the most cost-effective forms of treatment for OSA at around £400. 

Should you think you or your partner suffer with Snoring or OSA, you do not need to suffer anymore. Dentists are able to screen for signs and symptoms of OSA in just a few minutes and recommend therapy that same appointment. To find your nearest clinic, click here.