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Obstructive sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea: Introduction

Obstructive sleep apnea is a severe breathing disorder and the most common form of sleep apnea. The hallmark of obstructive sleep apnea is a cessation of breathing for potentially serious periods of time during sleep.

In obstructive sleep apnea, the soft tissues of the back of the mouth and throat relax during sleep and hang down blocking the trachea (windpipe). This obstructs the flow of air into the lungs. In obstructive sleep apnea, breathing can then stop for a significant period of time, two minutes or more. Throat structures that can cause a problem include the back of the tongue, the uvula and the back of the roof of the mouth.

Obstructive sleep apnea can result in low levels of oxygen. Some people with obstructive sleep apnea develop cyanosis (blueness of the skin) due to the severe lack of oxygen. In obstructive sleep apnea, low levels of oxygen eventually trigger the sleeping person to rouse and take some normal breaths. They then fall back into a deeper sleep. In obstructive sleep apnea, this cycle can occur as much as 20 to 30 times an hour and be very disruptive to sleep and health. Complications of obstructive sleep apnea include sleep deprivation and irregular heart rhythms.

Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include snoring between periods of not breathing and choking or shortness of breath when stirring after a period of not breathing. For more details on symptoms and complications, refer to symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea.

People at risk for developing obstructive sleep apnea include those who smoke or use alcohol, sleeping pills or other sedative drugs. Other risk factors include being overweight and having certain abnormalities of the throat or nose. Obstructive sleep apnea can occur in all age groups, is more common in men than women, and appears to have a hereditary connection.

Making a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea includes taking a thorough medical and family history, including symptoms, and completing a physical examination. Diagnostic testing includes a polysomnography. This is a sleep test is performed in a sleep center. It evaluates oxygen levels and heart rate during sleep and a variety of other elements, such as muscle activity, eye movement, electrical activity of the brain and the stages of sleep.

Another sleep test, called a multiple sleep latency test, can measure how fast a person falls asleep. People with obstructive sleep apnea generally fall asleep faster than people who do not have the disorder.

It is possible that a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea can be missed or delayed because people with the disorder are often not aware of it and do not seek prompt treatment. For more information on misdiagnosis, refer to misdiagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea.

Treatment of obstructive sleep apnea varies depending on the severity of the disease, the presence of complications and other factors. Treatment can include a combination of lifestyle changes, a breathing device called a CPAP, and surgery in some cases. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of obstructive sleep apnea. ...more »

Obstructive sleep apnea: A form of sleep apnea where there is a physical obstruction to the airways. Obese people are particularly prone to this condition but people with congenital abnormalities of the upper airway may also suffer the condition. For example, enlarged adenoids may obstruct breathing. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea can cause serious complications such as heart abnormalities and lung failure if left untreated. ...more »

Obstructive sleep apnea: Animations

Obstructive sleep apnea: Broader Related Topics


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