Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times. This means the brain — and the rest of the body — may not get enough oxygen.
There are two types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): The more common of the two forms of apnea, it is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.
- Central sleep apnea (CSA): Unlike OSA, the airway is not blocked, but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe. This is usually related to a prior stroke or heart failure.
Both forms of apnea may cause the brain to frequently wake briefly during the night. This results in a non-restful sleep.
OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea) may be associated with excessively loud snoring, predisposition to daytime sleepiness, problems with concentration and irritability, frequent nighttime urination, and morning headaches / dry throat. Long-term problems associated with OSA include hypertension, aggravation of diabetes, depression, and increased risk of automobile accidents, strokes, and heart attacks / heart rhythm disorders such as atrial fibrillation. A recent study has also shown an association with an increased risk of cancer.
Treatment options for both forms of apnea include positive airway pressure (PAP) devices. Other treatment options for OSA may include dental appliances to advance the jaw / tongue forward, and various surgeries (both upper airway and weight reduction procedures).