What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea (pronounced ap’•nee•a) is a common condition in which a person stops breathing or has shallow breathing during sleep. These pauses in breathing can occur anywhere from 5 to 30 or more times per hour and are usually followed with normal breathing that starts with a large snort or gasping sound. Sleep apnea commonly results in disruptive sleep, fatigue and excessive daytime sleepiness. Most people are unaware that they have this condition, because it only occurs during sleep. A bed partner or family member is often the person to report the signs of sleep apnea, although they can miss it if they are not observing closely. Completion of a sleep apnea screening questionnaire may assist your physician in assessing the quality of your sleep. Sleep apnea is generally considered a chronic condition and requires long term management.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea or OSA is the most common type of sleep apnea and occurs because a person’s airway or breathing passage collapses or becomes blocked during sleep. When a person tries to breathe, air that manages to pass through the narrowed upper airway will cause loud snoring. OSA frequently occurs in people who are overweight, but in fact can also occur in non-obese individuals.

Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea occurs less frequently than OSA. This type of sleep apnea occurs when the part of the brain that controls breathing does not send a signal to the breathing muscles. Unlike OSA, in which a person makes an effort to breathe but cannot due to the blockage, with central sleep apnea no effort to breathe occurs for short periods of time. Central sleep apnea can occur in anyone, but may be more common in people who take certain medicines or have certain medical conditions. Mixed Sleep Apnea It is not unusual for a person be diagnosed with both OSA and central sleep apnea.

Consequences of Untreated Sleep Apnea

Consequences of untreated sleep apnea can be serious and may cause an increased risk of:

  • Daytime sleepiness and fatigue
  • Disturbed sleep of bed partner due to snoring
  • Heart attack
  • Congestive heart failure
  • High blood pressure
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Motor vehicle or work-related accident
  • Premature death

For more information about sleep apnea, contact your physician or visit any of these web sites: The Lung Association  *  Assistive Devices Program  *  American Sleep Apnea Association