What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is the name of a common disease characterized by interruption of breathing during sleep. This interruption of breathing causes an abnormal blood oxygen level, resulting in fatigue, as well as cardiovascular, cognitive and emotional disorders.

Breathing Problems Spotlight

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder in the United States. The disease is more common in men, African Americans, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders than in other groups. Further, at least one in 10 people older than 65 has sleep apnea (Source: NHLBI).

Sleep apnea occurs due to two causes: obstruction of the airways and irregular brain signals. Most commonly, people develop sleep apnea from relaxation of soft tissue in the back of the throat that blocks the passage of air, resulting in obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Central sleep apnea (CSA) is caused by irregularities in the brain’s normal signals to breathe.

The signs and symptoms of sleep apnea can last indefinitely or come and go. The disease course varies among individuals. Some people with sleep apnea have no symptoms, while others may have severe problems with sleep, decreases in blood oxygen levels (hypoxia), difficulty concentrating, irritability, and fatigue. Fortunately, sleep apnea can be treated successfully with lifestyle changes, breathing devices, and, in severe cases, surgery.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, severe sweating, or weakness or numbness on one side of the body.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea causes frequent drops in your oxygen level, and reduced sleep quality triggers the release of stress hormones. This raises your heart rate and increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats).... Read more about sleep apneasymptoms

CAUSES

What causes sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is the result of obstruction or irregular brain signaling. The disease is characterized by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep.... Read more about sleep apneacauses

TREATMENTS

How is sleep apnea treated?

Treatment for sleep apnea begins with seeking medical care from your health care provider. To determine if you have sleep apnea, your health care provider will ask you to undergo diagnostic testing.... Read more about sleep apneatreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Lungs, Breathing and Respiration


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