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May 15, 2011 at 1:00 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Understanding Sleep Apnea

By Smarty More Blogs by This Author

Sleep apnea has been associated with snoring, which is one of the symptoms of the condition. However, unlike snoring, sleep apnea is not just an annoyance for people around you. It can become a very serious disorder that leads to heart problems, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression. The technical definition of apnea is the cessation of breathing. During the night, a person with sleep apnea will have their breathing interrupted or stopped numerous times; limiting the amount of oxygen the brain receives. There are two main types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

As the most common form of the condition, obstructive sleep apnea takes place when the muscles of the throat that support the soft palate relax. When the soft palate is not supported as normal, the airway becomes narrower or closes temporarily. The brain automatically knows to briefly wake the person to regain their breathing. Rarely, a person might know that they are awake and make a snorting or coughing sound. Most of the time, they are unaware of what happened even though the process could repeat itself up to thirty times or more each hour. This definitely prevents the person from sound sleep and places them at an elevated risk for the negative effects that accompany a lack of sleep.

Central Sleep Apnea

In the case of central sleep apnea, the brain does not transmit signals to breathing muscles, causing them to relax or stop. A person with central sleep apnea is more likely to awake or remember the interruptions than a person with obstructive sleep apnea. Heart disease is the most common cause of central sleep apnea, along with a stroke to a lesser extent. Overall, central sleep apnea is not nearly as common as obstructive sleep apnea. Both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea can be combined to form complex sleep apnea. The causes are similar to obstructive sleep apnea, except there is an extra problem with the rhythm of breathing and/or lapses in the breathing patterns.


Overlapping symptoms for the different types of sleep apnea make it more challenging to accurately diagnose which kind a person has. They include excessive daytime sleepiness, insomnia, a morning headache, and having a dry mouth or sore throat when awakening. In addition, people with obstructive sleep apnea might experience loud snoring while people with central sleep apnea could awake abruptly with a shortness of breath. Any of the above symptoms or a combination of them should be a reason to seek medical advice. For most people, snoring is generally not thought of as a cause for alarm, but a person who snores loudly needs to talk with their doctor to find out what is causing it.

Risk Factors, Treatment, and Prevention

Males are more susceptible to obstructive and central sleep apnea than females. Although thin people can have sleep apnea, being overweight increases the risk because of the fat deposits that obstruct upper airways. Other risk factors of obstructive and complex sleep apnea are an unusually large neck circumference larger than 17 inches, hypertension, a family history of sleep apnea, narrow airways, large tonsils, smoking, extended sitting, alcohol, tranquilizers, and sedatives. Age is another factor, as people who are over sixty five are more prone to central sleep apnea. Depending on the type of sleep apnea diagnosed, various treatments are available. Therapy is an option for all three types, and obstructive sleep apnea patients may be prescribed breathing appliances or surgery. It is important to consult with a physician as soon as you notice any symptoms to understand more about how they can help you. Weight management, sleeping on your side, and avoiding alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers are among the natural ways to prevent sleep apnea. Nasal decongestants used to open nasal passages are also a preventive measure. They are normally for short-term use only and should not be used without a doctor's approval.


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