Sleep apnea: Overview

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when breathing of a person is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea repeatedly stops and starts breathing due to lack of oxygen in brain and rest of the body.

Updated: January 21, 2018

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when breathing of a person is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea repeatedly stops and starts breathing due to lack of oxygen in brain and rest of the body. If you snore loudly and you feel tired even after sleeping a full night, you may have sleep apnea.
Types of sleep apnea include:

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA):

This is the most common type of apnea caused by a blockage of the airway when throat muscles relax during sleep.

Central sleep apnea:

This type of occurs when your brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.

Complex sleep apnea syndrome:

This type of apnea occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
Person who has sleep apnea does not necessarily snores. But be sure to consult your doctor if you experience loud snoring, especially snoring that is punctuated by periods of silence.
Consult a doctor if you experience shortness of breath, gasping for air or choking that awakens you from sleep, intermittent pauses in your breathing during sleep or snoring loud enough to disturb the sleep of others or yourself.
Daytime drowsiness which may cause you to fall asleep while you are working or doing some activity could be due to sleep apnea or to other disorders, such as narcolepsy.
People with obstructive sleep apnea may not be aware that their sleep was interrupted. When the muscles in the back of your throat relax, your airway narrows or closes as you breathe in resulting in lowering the level of oxygen in your blood. This will cause obstructive sleep apnea as you will be unable to get enough breath in.
Central sleep apnea is a less common form of sleep apnea that occurs when your brain fails to transmit signals to your breathing muscles. With shortness of breath you may awaken or have a difficult time getting to sleep or staying asleep.
Daytime fatigue, high blood pressure, heart problems, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, liver problems and complications with medications and surgery are some of the complications due to sleep apnea.
An overnight monitoring of your breathing and other body functions during sleep can be done to diagnose sleep apnea. The diagnosis is made based on your signs and symptoms.
To detect sleep apnea nocturnal polysomnography or home sleep tests are usually done. If the results are abnormal from these test, a therapy may be  prescribed without further testing. Polysomnography is recommended even if your initial results are normal as portable monitoring devices do not detect all cases of sleep apnea.
Oral appliances, Expiratory positive airway pressure (EPAP) and Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) are some of the therapies used for treating sleep apnea.
Surgery is usually the last an option after other treatments have failed. Before considering surgery, at least a three-month trial of other treatment options is suggested. Tissue removal, Jaw repositioning, Implants and Tracheostomy are few surgical options.
Weight-loss surgery, Surgery to remove enlarged tonsils or adenoids and Surgery of deviated nasal septum are some of the other types of surgery that may help reduce snoring and contribute to the treatment of sleep apnea by clearing or enlarging air passages.
Self-care may be helpful for you to deal with obstructive sleep apnea and possibly central sleep apnea. These may include exercising, loosing excess weight, avoiding alcohol and certain medications such as tranquilizers and sleeping pills, sleeping on your side or abdomen rather than on your back, keeping your nasal passages open at night and quit smoking.



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