What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a disorder in which a person stops breathing during the night, perhaps hundreds of times, usually for periods of 10 seconds or longer. In most cases the person is unaware of it, although sometimes they awaken and gasp for breath. It is usually accompanied by snoring. People who have sleep apnea may not even be aware of the condition,
but it inevitably causes daytime sleepiness.
Sleep apnea usually is caused by a partial or complete blockage of the breathing airway in your nose or throat. The blockage can be caused by large tonsils, a large tongue or by excess tissue in the airway, which is more common among people who are overweight. A sleeping person normally breathes continuously and uninterruptedly throughout the night. A person with sleep apnea, however, has frequent episodes (up to 400-500 per night) in which he or she stops breathing. This interruption of breathing is called "apnea." Breathing usually stops for about 30 seconds; then the person usually startles awake with a loud snort and begins to breathe again, gradually falling back to sleep.
Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening condition because there are interruptions in breathing during sleep. In addition to causing daytime fatigue, early morning headaches, irritability and lack of concentration, sleep apnea can lead to depression, learning and memory difficulties and sexual dysfunction. More importantly, sleep apnea is associated with other serious conditions like high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, heart attack and stroke. In infants, sleep apnea can be connected to sudden infant death syndrome. A person who suspects sleep apnea should see their doctor or a sleep specialist to determine the extent of the problem and related conditions.
The most common kind of sleep apnea is called obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Sleep apnea means "cessation of breath." It is characterized by repetitive episodes of upper airway obstruction that occur during sleep, usually associated with a reduction in blood oxygen saturation. In other words, the airway becomes obstructed at several possible sites. The upper airway can be obstructed by excess tissue in the airway, large tonsils, a large tongue and usually includes the airway muscles relaxing and collapsing when asleep. Another site of obstruction can be the nasal passages. Sometimes the structure of the jaw and airway can be a factor in sleep apnea.
More information on sleep apnea
What is sleep apnea? - Sleep apnea is a disorder in which a person stops breathing during the night. Sleep apnea means cessation of breath characterized by repetitive episodes of upper airway obstruction.
What types of sleep apnea are there? - There are three types of sleep apnea, including obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea, mixed sleep apnea.
What is obstructive sleep apnea? - Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder in which complete or partial obstruction of the airway during sleep causes loud snoring, oxyhemoglobin desaturations and frequent arousals.
What causes obstructive sleep apnea? - Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by repetitive upper airway obstruction during sleep as a result of narrowing of the respiratory passages.
What're the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea? - Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include loud snoring, Daytime sleepiness, memory changes, depression, and irritability.
What is central sleep apnea? - Central sleep apnea is a sleep breathing disorder that occurs when the brain fails to send the appropriate signals to the breathing muscles to initiate respirations.
What causes central sleep apnea? - Conditions that can cause sentral sleep apnea include bulbar poliomyelitis, encephalitis affecting the brainstem, neurodegenerative illnesses.
What're the symptoms of central sleep apnea? - Symptoms of central sleep apnea include extreme exhaustion and sleepiness during daylight hours, early morning headaches, lack of concentration, and memory loss.
What are the risk factors for sleep apnea? - There are several factors that may predispose a person towards sleep apnea, including gender, age, ethnicity, geography, obesity, immune abnormalities.
What are the complications of sleep apnea? - Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening condition because there are interruptions in breathing during sleep.
How is sleep apnea diagnosed? - A sleep test, called polysomnography is done to diagnose sleep apnea. Confirmation of the diagnosis requires making measurements while the person sleeps.
What's the treatment to stop sleep apnea? - Treatment for sleep apnea is determined based on the individual's specific circumstances and can include behavioral changes, physical therapy and surgery.
What surgeries are available to cure sleep apnea? - Surgeries to stop sleep apnea include uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, laser-assisted uvulopalatoplasty, tracheostomy, radiofrequency ablation.
What about the CPAP therapy for sleep apnea? - The most effective treatment for sleep apnea is nasal continuous positive airflow pressure (CPAP) therapy.