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.

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, headache, shortness of breath, severe sweating, or weakness or numbness on one side of the body.


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 (irregul... Read more about sleep apneasymptoms


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.

The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), caused by soft tissue or structural obstructions that restrict air flow through the windpipe. For this reason, sleep apnea occurs most frequently in people who are... Read more about sleep apneacauses


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.

The type of treatment for sleep apnea depends on cause and severity of the condition and medical history of the individual.

Main treatment for sleep apnea

The ... Read more about sleep apneatreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 30, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 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

Popular Lungs, Breathing and Respiration Slide Shows

Personal Story Network

A place where patients, healthcare providers, caregivers, and innovators share their personal stories about healing, and hope within the healthcare system and beyond.