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Carrie Fisher’s Autopsy Findings Point to Link with Sleep Apnea

Most of us know of Carrie Fisher’s long battle with drug abuse.  But did you know that Carrie Fisher also suffered from Sleep Apnea and that it was related to her cause of death?

According to an article on Forbes.com, “The brief announcement Friday evening from the Los Angeles medical examiner’s office on Carrie Fisher’s cause of death raised the possibility of a lethal interplay of sleep apnea, drug use and heart disease.

Fisher, 60, a “Star Wars” actress and author, collapsed Dec. 23 on an 11-hour flight from London to Los Angeles and died Dec. 27. The Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner on Friday said the caue of death was “sleep apnea and other undertermined factors.” Other findings in the autopsy included atherosclerotic heart disease and the use of multiple drugs, although the significance of the latter isn’t known, according to the announcement, which noted that the manner of Fisher’s death has been ruled “undetermined.”

In January, the medical examiner initially listed the cause of death as cardiac arrest, which is often confused with a heart attack. While a heart attack is a common cause of cause cardiac arrest, they are not the same thing, notes the American Heart Association. A heart attack occurs when a blockage stops blood flow to the heart, while cardiac arrest, the sudden stoppage of the heart, is caused by a malfunction of the heart’s electrical system.

The Greek word “apnea” means “without breath.” People with sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during sleep, sometimes 30 times an hour or more, for a few seconds to more than a minute each time, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Most people who have it don’t know it, since the signs–snoring, snorting when breathing resumes–occur during sleep (although not everyone who snores has sleep apnea). A family member or bed partner is often the first to notice the signs, according to the NHLBI. Other signs include headaches or a dry mouth upon awakening; daytime sleepiness; an inability to concentrate; feeling irritable or depressed or having mood swings and waking up frequently to urinate, the NHLBI says.

The medical examiner did not specify what type of sleep apnea Fisher had. Obstructive sleep apnea, in which the upper airway collapses or becomes blocked repeatedly during sleep, is the more common, affecting an estimated 9% of women and 17% of men 50 and older but fewer people younger than 50, according to the heart association. In central sleep apnea, which is often related to certain medical conditions or medications, the airway isn’t blocked, but the brain fails to properly signal the breathing muscles. Snoring isn’t typically associated with central sleep apnea. Some people have both obstructive and central sleep apnea.”

You can read the entire article here.

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Carrie Fisher image by Gage Skidmore

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