Sleep apnea is a disorder resulting in brief periods when breathing stops during sleep. These periods can last for 10-30 seconds at a time, up to 20-30 times per hour. Over the course of the night, interrupted breathing can occur up to 400 times.
There are 3 types of sleep apnea:
Sleep apnea is the result of a combination of factors. Major causes depend on the type of sleep apnea:
With all types of sleep apnea, the brain senses the breathing interruption and signals the body to wake up. Waking up restores normal breathing but breaks the sleep cycle. Poor sleep can cause daytime fatigue and over time lead to other serious medical conditions like high blood pressure or depression.
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Sleep apnea is more common in men, and in adults over 40 years old.
Factors that may increase your chance of sleep apnea include:
Sleep apnea may cause:
Untreated sleep apnea can lead to other health complications, such as:
The effects of sleep apnea associated with motor vehicle accidents.
An overnight sleep study is used to help diagnose sleep apnea.
Polysomnography is a sleep test. It helps detect the presence and severity of sleep apnea. During sleep, it measures your:
There are a number of treatment options for sleep apnea, including:
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a machine that forces a constant and continuous flow of air through a hose connected to a mask. It is used while you sleep. The air flow prevents the soft tissues in the throat and neck from collapsing and blocking the airway.
Oral appliances that help keep the tongue or jaw in a more forward position may help those with mild to moderate sleep apnea. They can also be used for those with severe obstructive sleep apnea who cannot use CPAP therapy or have tried it without success.
In some cases, surgery may be advised. It is most often helpful in children.
Types of surgery that may be done to treat severe cases of sleep apnea include:
Bariatric surgery may help with weight loss in those who do not have success with other methods . This surgery may reduce many of the complications that are related to obesity, including sleep apnea.
Only used in central apnea, acetazolamide may help improve the ability to regulate breathing.
Supplemental oxygen may be given if blood levels of oxygen fall too low during sleep, even after opening the airway.
American Sleep Apnea Association
National Sleep Foundation
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Last reviewed March 2016 by Marcin Chwistek, MD Last Updated: 8/11/2015