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Mother beats GPs on sleep disorder
A woman who suffered from a mystery condition that stopped her breathing every five minutes as she slept has finally been diagnosed 25 years later - by her mother.
Amanda Ramsay, 45, visited numerous doctors' surgeries and consultants after becoming increasingly exhausted, depressed and overweight.
She underwent "countless" blood tests, 30 thyroid tests and was forced to give up her job but medics failed to diagnose the cause of her chronic ill-health.
Her mother, Maureen Ramsay, 70, decided to Google her symptoms and found they matched the little-known sleep disorder Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA).
Miss Ramsay, of Bristol, suggested the condition to her doctor and was referred to a consultant, who ordered that she undergo a sleep study to take measurements including her oxygen levels.
The next day, results showed Miss Ramsay's upper airway was collapsing as her muscles relaxed during sleep - causing her breathing to stop every five minutes.
She was immediately diagnosed with OSA and has since been prescribed a respiratory machine to pump air into her body, allowing her to sleep through the night for the first time in decades.
"I was going to the doctor's for years because I was so easily putting on weight, had episodic depression and unexplained fatigue and latterly acid reflux," Miss Ramsay said.
"These are all symptoms of OSA but I was only diagnosed because of my mother. I'm really angry with the doctors; they left me with absolutely no hope and no treatment.
"Doctors train for seven years and get paid a lot of much money. My mum was so worried she went online and used Google to research my symptoms.
"She found OSA, I went to my GP and was sent to a consultant who suggested a sleep study and the next day I was diagnosed."
Miss Ramsay is now embarking on an awareness campaign for OSA and a weight loss challenge to raise money for the British Lung Foundation.
The University of Bristol PhD student began experiencing sleepiness in the middle of the day as she studied for her A-levels in the late 1980s.
Her condition continued into her 20s and by her 30s she often struggled to keep her eyes open while driving home from work.
"For many years, I was just feeling more and more exhausted and just trying to carry on," she said. "I felt utterly wiped out, with a foggy head, low concentration and a sense of not having enough energy even to get to work.
"The older I got, the heavier I got because caffeine, carbs and sugar were getting me through the day. I had to rest most of the time and could only walk for about five minutes.
"It was like living with the handbrake on."
Miss Ramsay would often wake up with the "frightening" sensation that she was swallowing a ball of chewing gum and could not breathe but did not realise her windpipe was closing.
In 2008, she contracted a chest infection, which failed to respond to antibiotics. By January 2009, she was left so exhausted she could barely walk to the local shop.
Her doctor then diagnosed post-viral fatigue syndrome, with Miss Ramsay forced to give up her job in the media to recover.
"Despite seeing a consultant, no-one suggested a sleep study or any treatment," she said.
"I was just told to rest. I removed all stress from my life and went on a cleanse type diet with no caffeine, alcohol, wheat and no sugar."
She began working part-time as a freelance researcher and writer in 2010 but quickly became too unwell to continue.
Mrs Ramsay went online in May 2011 and, after researching her daughter's symptoms, discovered OSA. A consultant at the Royal Brompton Hospital diagnosed OSA in July 2011.
After being diagnosed, Miss Ramsay was prescribed a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, to wear every time she goes to sleep.
"I can't even enjoy relaxing and watching a film lying on the sofa without the machine because my airway begins to close," she said.
Miss Ramsay, a politics graduate who is researching community activism for her PhD, is aiming to lose five stone by Christmas in a bid to help improve her health and raise money for charity.
She is being trained by former Team GB athlete Tom Wood, with gruelling sessions twice a week, and Dr Tracy Johnson, her nutritionist at Brainbox coaching.
"Weight loss will not rid me of this condition but it will certainly improve my chances of living a long and healthy life," she said.
OSA affects 4% of middle-aged men and 2% of middle-aged women but many cases are undiagnosed.
Some sufferers wake up briefly when their upper airway collapses, but others have no idea their sleep is being so frequently disturbed.
If untreated, people often fall asleep mid-conversation, while sitting up or driving. Oxygen starvation leaves the whole body depleted and also increases the chance of stroke, heart disease, heart attack, morbid obesity and diabetes.
To read more about Miss Ramsay's campaign visit http://www.justgiving.com/Amanda-Ramsay2014.