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What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder where breathing stops and starts throughout the night.

There are three different types of sleep apnea:

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)

a common form of sleep apnea that occurs when the throat muscles relax

Central sleep apnea (CSA)

when the brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing

Complex sleep apnea syndrome

(aka treatment-emergent central sleep apnea) having both OSA and CSA

What causes Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea are caused by different things.

OSA occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat relax, causing your airways to narrow or close when you inhale and preventing enough oxygen from entering your lungs. Your brain senses you are unable to breathe and will very briefly wake you in order to reopen your airways. You may make a snorting, choking, or gasping sound when you wake, and this process can occur
5 to 30 times or more per hour throughout the night. This prevents you from getting a good night's sleep and you'll likely feel tired the next day.

CSA is much more uncommon than OSA, and is caused by your brain failing to communicate with your breathing muscles. This causes you to stop breathing for a short period of time. If you have CSA, you may awaken with shortness of breath, have trouble falling asleep, or have trouble staying asleep.

Doctor holding a clipboard with
Tired woman yawning, working at office desk and holding a cup of coffee.

What are Sleep Apnea Symptoms?

Some symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apnea overlap, which can make it more difficult to diagnose the specific type of sleep apnea. The most common symptoms of OSA and CSA are:

  • Loud snoring
  • Periods where breathing stops (as observed by another person)
  • Abruptly waking and breathing heavily
  • Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat
  • Waking up with a headache
  • Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
  • Attention problems
  • Irritability

Although anyone can be affected by sleep apnea (even children), the following factors will increase your risk of OSA:

Being overweight will increase your risk of OSA.

A large neck circumference increases in men if their neck circumference is 17 inches (43 centimeters) or greater, and in women if their.

This is a common risk factor for children with sleep apnea.

Men are twice as likely to have sleep apnea compared to women.

Menopausal women are at higher risk of sleep apnea.

OSA occurs more frequently in older adults.

Having a family history of sleep apnea.

Using alcohol, tranquilizers, or sedatives. These relax your throat muscles.a.

Smokers are three times more likely to have OSA than those who have never smoked. Smoking may increase the amount of inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway. This risk is likely to drop after you quit smoking.

Nasal congestion can also lead to increase risk for OSA.

Did you know? These factors will increase your risk of CSA:

  • Being middle-aged or older
  • Heart disorders
  • Using narcotic pain meds
  • History of a stroke

Think you may have sleep apnea? Take this quiz to see if you are at risk.

Source: Mayo Clinic. Diseases and Conditions: Sleep Apnea & WebMed.com

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