What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the collapse of the airway in the back of the nose, mouth and throat during sleep blocking the flow of air.  The disease causes snoring, choking or gasping during sleep and affects over 22 million adults.

Key Points

  • Sleep apnea is a chronic disease that can cause poor quality sleep and affect mental and physical performance.
  • Severe, untreated sleep apnea increases your risk for health problems such as heart disease, stroke, depression and motor vehicle crashes.
  • Excess body weight, a narrow airway, low muscle tone, and genetic predisposition are all risk factors for sleep apnea.
  • Common warning signs for sleep apnea include snoring, others noticing that your breathing pauses during sleep, waking feeling tired and daytime sleepiness.
  • Sleep apnea can be treated effectively with CPAP therapy or an alternative treatment.

General Overview

When your airway collapses during sleep, air cannot get to the lungs. This leads to a brief arousal from sleep that causes sleep fragmentation and poor sleep quality. This cycle can repeat hundreds of times in one night, but typically these events are not remembered in the morning.

Your bed partner may notice that you snore loudly or repeatedly stop breathing. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea can cause daytime sleepiness and can even affect your mood. It also increases the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, erectile dysfunction and depression.

Am I at Risk

Excess body weight is the leading risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea, but thin people can have sleep apnea too. The risk also increases if you have a large neck, tongue, tonsils or jaw. Sleep apnea is more common in men than in women, but the risk for women increases during and after menopause. Sleep apnea is common in people who have high blood pressure. It also occurs frequently in people who have heart disease, stroke, a mood disorder or type 2 diabetes.

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