What Is Sleep Apnea?



Image Caption: Take a night flight into the restless world of sleep apnea. You'll see what sleep apnea looks like as a sleeper repeatedly stops breathing, gasps for breath, and awakens just enough to start breathing again. View, from the inside, how collapsed tissues block off breathing. Fly down into the myriad branches of the airways. Dr. Katherine Sharkey of Brown University and Dr. Cynthia Geyer of Canyon Ranch explain airway blockage and why it's usually due to anatomical features, such as an enlarged neck. You'll see the regions of the brain affected by sleep apnea. Obesity can cause sleep apnea, but evidence points to a reverse relationship as well: sleep apnea disrupts hormones, increases hunger, and raises insulin and glucose levels-leading to diabetes. Get close-up looks at other organs affected by sleep apnea: the blood vessels, heart, and lungs. You'll see polysomnography-overnight sleep monitoring-in action. Successful treatment gives the sleep apnea sufferer a new lease on life.

Sleep Apnea

Also called: Sleep-disordered breathing

Sleep apnea is a common disorder that causes your breathing to stop or get very shallow. Breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes. They may occur 30 times or more an hour.

The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea. It causes your airway to collapse or become blocked during sleep. Normal breathing starts again with a snort or choking sound. People with sleep apnea often snore loudly. However, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea.

You are more at risk for sleep apnea if you are overweight, male, or have a family history or small airways. Children with enlarged tonsils may also get it.

Doctors diagnose sleep apnea based on medical and family histories, a physical exam, and sleep study results.

When your sleep is interrupted throughout the night, you can be drowsy during the day. People with sleep apnea are at higher risk for car crashes, work-related accidents, and other medical problems. If you have it, it is important to get treatment. Lifestyle changes, mouthpieces, surgery, and breathing devices can treat sleep apnea in many people.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


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