Sleep apnea is a condition in which the patient stops breathing for periods of time at night.
There are three categories of sleep apnea:
1) Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form and it occurs due to excess tissue blockage when the throat muscles relax.
2) Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain isn’t sending the correct signals to maintain proper breathing during sleep.
3) Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
Many people find out they have sleep apnea based on the observations of their partners, who notice that they stop breathing periodically throughout the night and might “startle” back into breathing. Other signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include:
In the vast majority of cases, sleep apnea is caused by an obstruction of the throat. This obstruction can be caused by a variety of different conditions, including excess tissue in the throat, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, nasal inflammation, or relaxing of the throat and tongue muscles.
Sleep apnea is more likely to affect men than women. Other risk factors include being overweight, having a large neck circumference, having a family history of sleep apnea, smoking, and drug and alcohol use, including sleeping medications.
Untreated sleep apnea can increase the patient’s risk for severe complications, including high blood pressure, heart attack, arrhythmias, type 2 diabetes, risks associated with general anesthesia, liver function problems, and metabolic syndrome. In addition, the loud snoring associated with sleep apnea can result in relationship and social problems.
Because sleep apnea is associated with so many potential complications, treatment should be sought as soon as sleep apnea is suspected. Early diagnosis and intervention can decrease the risk of serious complications.
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