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Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea

Definition

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder with pauses in breathing while you are asleep. The stoppage can last for 10-30 seconds at a time, up to 20-30 times per hour. During one night, breathing may stop up to 400 times.

There are 3 types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive
  • Central
  • Mixed

With all types of sleep apnea, the brain will sense the pause in breathing and wake you up. Waking up restores normal breathing but breaks the sleep cycle. Poor sleep can make you tired during the day and over time lead to other serious medical conditions like high blood pressure or depression.

Causes

Major causes depend on the type of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive—Muscles in the body to relax during sleep. This can let soft tissue in the back of the throat and mouth to sink toward the throat. If the tissue blocks the airway it will temporarily stop normal breathing.
  • Central—Breathing is controlled by signals from the brain. If the signals are not working properly, breathing can be slowed or interrupted.
  • Mixed—Both soft tissue and nerve signals are causing problems.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
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Risk Factors

Sleep apnea is more common in men, and in adults over 40 years old.

Factors that may increase your chance of sleep apnea include:

  • Excess weight or obesity
  • Large neck circumference
  • Family history of apnea
  • Structure problems of the nose or throat such as:
    • Nasal polyps
    • Severely enlarged tonsils
    • Deviated nasal septum
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Asthma
  • Certain medications, such as sedatives and sleeping aids
  • Excess alcohol intake
  • Smoking
  • Sleeping without dentures, in those that have dentures
  • Heart failure (central sleep apnea)

Symptoms

Your partner may notice loud snoring or that you breathing stops at night. You may notice repeated waking at night.

Regular sleep apnea can lead to:

  • Fatigue and sleepiness throughout the day
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Morning headaches
  • Poor concentration or problems with memory
  • Irritability or short temper

Untreated sleep apnea has been linked to other health problems, such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Depression
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease

Sleep apnea also increases the risk of motor vehicle accidents, most likely due to lack of sleep. If you have daytime sleepiness avoiding driving or operating potentially hazardous equipment.

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. If the doctor thinks it may be sleep apnea you will be sent for an overnight sleep study in a clinic.

Polysomnography is test that will help find sleep disorders. It can help show the severity of the apnea as well. During sleep, the test will measure your:

  • Eye and muscle movements
  • Brain activity using an electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • Heart rate
  • Breathing pattern and depth
  • Amount of oxygen that reaches your blood

To look for any changes caused by sleep apnea, your doctor may also do the following tests:

  • Blood tests to check thyroid function
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)—to check the heart
  • Pulmonary function tests—to test lung abilities

Treatment

Treating sleep apnea will decrease symptoms and reduce risk factors for other health conditions. More mild forms may be managed with some lifestyle changes. More severe forms may need long term treatment. The exact treatment will depend on the type of sleep apnea and its severity.

Prevention

You may be able to prevent sleep apnea by maintaining a healthy weight.

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