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What is Sleep Apnea?

Nearly 30 million people in the United States have some type of Sleep Apnea. Sleep Apnea occurs when your airway closes when you are sleeping. This can come from a partial closure or a complete closure of the airway. There are several types of sleep apnea: Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common, and is caused by the relaxation of the throat muscles. It is also sometimes caused by being obstructed by large tonsils. Central Sleep Apnea is less common but occurs when the respiratory center in the brain fails to send the message to control breathing. Some people may have both obstructive and central sleep apnea this is sometimes called Complex Sleep Apnea. When a person stops breathing (apnea), causes the blood oxygen level to drop until it gets low enough to wake the person up so he will start breathing again. For moderate to severe sleep apnea these episodes can happen hundreds of times throughout the night, and not even be noticed by the person.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Sometimes it is your partner that notices that you stop breathing at night, or that you wake up gasping or choking. Loud snoring, unusual daytime sleepiness, sore throat, dry mouth, headaches, inability to stay sleeping throughout the night are also signs of sleep apnea.

Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea runs in families. It occurs in both men and women, but is more common in men. Children as well as adults may have sleep apnea, but is more common as we age. Obesity is a risk factor but very thin people may also have sleep apnea. Smoking, alcohol, and sedative types of medications also may contribute to sleep apnea, as well as inherited traits like narrow airways, large tonsils and adenoids, or malformed palates. Central Sleep Apnea is more common in men over 65, and patients with heart conditions like congestive heart failure, stroke, atrial fibrillation, and brain tumors.

Possible Complications

Sleep Apnea causes two types of complications. The first is the drop in oxygen level that happens when you stop breathing, it adds strain to your heart and vascular system, that causes hypertension and can lead to heart attack and stroke. If you have heart disease, untreated sleep apnea can cause a fatal cardiac event.

The second type of complication comes from a chronic lack of sleep. The daytime sleepiness and the feeling of not being sufficiently rested leads to depression, irritability, anxiety, impotence, job injuries and sometime vehicle accidents. In children, sleep apnea is linked to behavioral problems, poor school performance and ADHD.


Sleep Apnea is treatable. The most effective treatment is the use of a CPAP. CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine is used to maintain a positive pressure in the airway to keep the airway from closing. It is prescribed by the doctor and the pressure is determined by a sleep study. When you use your CPAP as directed, you will experience the good sleep that you have been missing.

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