Actress Carrie Fisher was unabashedly vocal about her lifelong battles with mental illness and drug abuse. She once defiantly told ABC News, “I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it. But bring it on.”
Her candor inspired a generation of women. If a cool and funny Hollywood icon could be so open about getting help for her struggles, then so could they.
But a disorder that ultimately contributed to Fisher’s death was something she hadn’t publicly said much about: sleep apnea.
Fisher died Dec. 27, four days after she had a heart attack on a flight from London to Los Angeles.
In a news release Friday, the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s Office said sleep apnea — where a person repeatedly stops breathing during sleep, sometimes more than 100 times a night — was a contributing factor in her death, according to the Associated Press.
The medical examiner still listed the cause of Fisher’s death as “undetermined,” according to the AP. Other contributing factors were her ingestion of multiple unspecified drugs and a buildup of fatty tissue in her arteries.
But that the 60-year-old dealt with sleep apnea wasn’t widely known. It’s unclear if Fisher even knew she had it.
Grace Pien, a sleep specialist with Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said that silence is something Fisher has in common with the legion of female sufferers of sleep apnea.
More than 18 million Americans have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Doctors cannot detect the disorder during a routine examination and it is the leading cause of daytime fatigue, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Symptoms include snoring and gasping for breath in one’s sleep. Untreated, sleep apnea could increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and heart failure, according to the National Institutes of Health. And one…
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