What Is Sleep Apnea?
There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central and mixed.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is the most common form, is caused by a blockage in the airway. This blockage is usually caused when the tissue in the rear of the throat collapses during sleep closing off the airway.
Central sleep apnea is not caused by a blockage in the airway, instead the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe.
Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of these. People with untreated obstructive sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times during the night and often for a minute or longer.
OSA usually is a chronic (ongoing) condition that disrupts sleep three or more nights each week. It is estimated that more than 18 million american adults have sleep apnea, the majority remain undiagnosed and therefore untreated. Sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed because most people don't know they have it since it only occurs during sleep. Untreated sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease, memory problems, weight gain, impotency, and headaches. Moreover, untreated sleep apnea may be responsible for job impairment and motor vehicle crashes.
What are the symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Key signs and symptoms include:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Loud or disruptive snoring
- Gasping or choking during sleep
Other common symptoms include:
- Grogginess and morning headaches
- Frequent urination at night
- Depression and irritability
- Large neck or crowding of the airway
What happens if OSA is left untreated?
Research has shown a strong link between Obstructive Sleep Apnea and three of the four leading causes of death; heart disease, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). OSA sufferers are at an increased risk for:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease and heart attack
- Fatigue related automobile and work accidents
- Decreased quality of life