What is Sleep Apnea? 

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What is Sleep Apnea? 

sleep apneaIntroduction

This is a common disorder in which breathing stops whilst sleeping for 10 seconds or more, sometimes more than 300 times a night. The hallmark of the disorder is excessive daytime sleepiness and compromised quality of life, including significant social and emotional problems. 

There are two main types of. "Obstructive Sleep Apnea" may represent cessation of breathing due to mechanical blockage of the airway; "Central Apnea" appears to be related to a malfunction of the brain’s normal signal to breathe. 

Symptoms may include restless kind of sleeping, loud, heavy snoring (often interrupted by silence and then gasps), falling asleep while driving and/or during the day (at work, watching TV, etc.), morning headaches, loss of energy, trouble concentrating, irritability, forgetfulness, mood or behavior changes, anxiety or depression, obesity, and decreased interest in sex. 

Not all people with this problem experience all of these symptoms and not everyone who has these symptoms has sleep apnea. However, it is recommended that people who are experiencing even a few of these symptoms visit their physician for evaluation. 

Prompt and proper diagnosis is an important first step to treating the disorder. 

Problems associated if left untreated include hypertension, coronary artery disease, myocardial infarction, stroke, psychiatric problems, impotence, cognitive dysfunction, memory loss, and death. 

Is there any treatment? 

For mild cases of the obstructive type, treatment often consists of using methods to avoid sleeping on one’s back. For people with significant nasal congestion, a decongestant therapy may be prescribed. 

Patients with obstructive and central apnea should avoid central nervous system depressants such as alcoholic beverages, sedatives and narcotics. Weight loss and diet control are encouraged for overweight patients. 

Many serious cases of obstructive can be relieved by a treatment called nasal continuous positive airway pressure (nasal CPAP). Nasal CPAP uses a mask-like device and pump that work together to keep the airway open with air pressure during each inspiration. 

Surgery may benefit some patients by eliminating or reducing the narrowing of the airway due to anatomical defects. 

What is the prognosis? 

Eliminating the obstruction usually reverses the commonly associated pulmonary and systemic hypertension and cardiac problems of obstructive apnea. Untreated, sleep apnea can greatly affect daytime functioning. 

Sufferers have a tendency to fall asleep during the day, a potentially deadly consequence of the disorder. 

What research is being done? 

This problem is currently one of the most active areas of sleep research. NINDS has notified investigators that it is seeking grant applications in both clinical and basic sleep and wakefulness research, including neurological causes and consequences of sleep apnea. 

Research on this subject is also funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Institute on Aging. 


American Sleep Apnea Association 1424 K Street, NW Suite 302 Washington, DC 20005 asaa@sleepapnea.org http://www.sleepapnea.org/ Tel: 202-293-3650 Fax: 202-293-3656 

National Sleep Foundation 1522 K Street NW Suite 500 Washington, DC 20005 nsf@sleepfoundation.org http://www.sleepfoundation.org/ Tel: 202-347-3471 (no public calls please) Fax: 202-347-3472 

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHBLI) National Institutes of Health Bldg. 31, Rm. 4A21 Bethesda, MD 20892 http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/ Tel: 301-592-8573 800-575-WELL (-9355) 

National Institute on Aging (NIA) National Institutes of Health Bldg. 31, Rm. 5C27 Bethesda, MD 20892-2292 http://www.nih.gov/nia Tel: 301-496-1752 800-222-2225 TTY: 800-222-4225

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© Anthony George 2005 Sleep Apnea