Heading off medical problems
When John Martin was jolted awake by the sound of his truck driving over rumble strips, he knew it was time to get a checkup. Medical tests discovered that Martin had sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that affects about 20 percent of commercial truck drivers.
With sleep apnea, breathing stops during sleep, typically for 10 to 20 seconds or more. These pauses can occur hundreds of times during the night, causing severe fatigue during the day. The disorder is typically triggered by a blockage in the throat caused by soft tissue. People with large necks or who are overweight are more likely to have the disorder, but thin people can also have sleep apnea.
Symptoms include loud snoring and a gasping or choking for air. Most people with sleep apnea are unaware of the problem. The disorder is especially dangerous for commercial drivers, who spend hours behind the wheel.
A national task force recently developed criteria to more accurately identify commercial drivers at risk for sleep apnea. The group said past approaches to screening for sleep disorders left many drivers undiagnosed. The task force recommends expanding the screening process for driver certification to include asking more questions about medical and physical history and flagging risk factors, such as body mass index, neck circumference and family history. Treatment for sleep apnea consists of a CPAP mask that delivers enough air to keep nasal passages open during inhalation.
Speaking of driver health issues, researchers at UCLA’s School of Public Health reported some alarming findings after interviewing and testing more than 3,000 truck drivers at truck stops and truck shows:
• 54% of male truck drivers smoked, compared to 30% of U.S. white males.
• 92% of truck drivers did not exercise regularly.
• 50% of truck drivers were overweight, compared to 25% of U.S. white males.
• 66% of drivers who have high blood pressure were not aware of it, compared to 46% of the U.S. population.
The study concluded that truck drivers would “clearly benefit from a health education and promotion program.”
To that end, Over the Road and Pro Trucker magazines sponsor Healthy Trucking Info kiosks at more than 100 truck stops and travel centers around the country. Each kiosk includes a blood-pressure monitoring machine and a wealth of health information. For more information, including locations, visit healthytruckinginfo.com
According to the National Institute of Health, high blood pressure is the second most common reason for medical visits. Complications of high blood pressure include heart disease, heart attack, stroke and kidney failure. As noted above, many drivers have high blood pressure and don’t even know it, so it is important to have your numbers checked regularly.
Sources: Roemer Report (used with permission), UCLA ( School of Public Health), NIH