what is sleep apnea

What Is Sleep Apnea?

What is sleep apnea? It is a disorder that causes breathing to stop and start periodically during sleep. When there is a lapse in breathing, it interrupts deep sleep enough to cause breathing to resume. This can happen numerous times in one night.

It is not usually detected during routine visits to the doctor but you can take a sleep apnea test to diagnose to problem. However, it is often a partner or family member who first realizes that something is wrong with your breathing at night.

The most common symptoms of apnea during sleep are loud snoring, headaches and chronic daytime fatigue. There are three different forms of sleep apnea: obstructive, complex and central sleep apnea.

What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive apnea occurs when the soft tissues at the back of the throat relax and create a blockage. This causes breathing to temporarily stop and this creates a drop in blood oxygen levels. The result is loud snoring, often accompanied by gasping or choking sounds. Episodes of obstructive apnea during sleep can occur several times each night, and last for as long as 40 seconds.

In addition to snoring, other symptoms of this disorder include fatigue, headaches, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and weight gain. Those suffering from obstructive apnea will often doze off during the day. It is more likely to occur in men who are seriously overweight and smokers.

This is not always a permanent condition as it is sometimes caused by illnesses like respiratory infections or tonsillitis.

Treatments for obstructive apnea during sleep include making changes in lifestyle, including diet, exercise levels, quitting smoking and giving up alcohol. For the most serious cases, a CPAP machine may be prescribed. This machine blows air through a tube and into a pressurized mask and into airways to keep them open.

What Is Central Sleep Apnea?

While obstructive apnea is caused by a blockage of the airways, this type of apnea is brought about when the brain fails to send a signal to inhale. It accounts for less than 5% of all apnea cases, and is also more common in men. It is a often a chronic condition caused by certain medical conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, strokes, degenerative diseases, extreme obesity and congestive heart failure.

This type of apnea during sleep also results in chronic fatigue due to lack of deep, restive sleep. It can also cause difficulty swallowing, weakness and shortness of breath that eases when in an upright position. Snoring may also occur, but it is less common with this type of disorder.

Treatments for central sleep apnea include the use of supplemental oxygen during sleep. Various types of airflow machines are used to treat this condition, including the CPAP machine. A bi-level PAP is sometimes used, which creates a higher pressure upon inhaling, and lessens when exhaling. Medications such as acetazolamide have been shown to be an effective treatment as well.

What Is Complex Sleep Apnea?

This type of apnea is a combination of the first two types and it is fairly rare. It can be very resistant to treatment, and usually does not improve with the use of CPAP or other machines. Changes in lifestyle or medications do not help either. It often occurs after a patient has had obstructive sleep apnea for a long time.

While most conventional treatment methods do not improve complex sleep apnea, a new treatment using an Adaptive-servo ventilation or ASV machine has had positive results. It keeps track of breathing patterns via an internal computer and prevents lapses in breathing.

Hopefully this article has shed some light on what is sleep apnea. If you think you suffer from this disorder, make sure to consult your doctor for medical advice.

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