Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts while the patient is asleep. There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central and complex.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses and closes during sleep. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain does not send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. Complex sleep apnea is a combination of the obstructive and central sleep apnea. Of the three, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common. People with sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times during the night and often for a minute or longer. In most cases the sleepers are unaware of these breath stoppages because they don’t trigger a full awakening.
It is estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, with 80 percent of the cases of moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea undiagnosed. Untreated sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, chronic heart failure, atrial fibrillation, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems. OSA is also associated with type 2 diabetes, liver problems, depression and daytime fatigue.
OSA can strike people of any age, including infants and children, but it is most frequently seen in men over 40, especially those are overweight or obese.