What is Sleep Apnea?
An estimated 18 million Americans suffer from a common sleep disorder known as sleep apnea. Experts suggest that of these cases, two to four percent are currently undiagnosed. So, what is sleep apnea? The word “apnea” comes from a Greek word meaning “want of breath”. Affected individuals will experience pauses in breathing during sleep, and sometimes shallow breathing. These pauses may occur as many as thirty times an hour, and can last anywhere from mere seconds to sometimes longer than a minute. Often, the cessation in breathing will be accompanied by choking or snorting when the individual is able to breathe again, frequently resulting in the individual (and their bedmate) suddenly waking up.
Why Does Sleep Apnea Occur?
While there are many different types of sleep apnea, the most common type is obstructive sleep apnea. During typical sleep, the airways of the throat remain open, and allow for passing airflow. Sometimes, this airway can become constricted or blocked, which typically results in snoring. For people who suffer from sleep apnea, this airway can collapse and either close completely or become too narrow for normal airflow. When airflow is disrupted, blood oxygen levels decrease and the brain sends a message to the body instructing it to wake up, or gasp for air. You can find out more about the causes of sleep apnea and treatments for sleep apnea on our website, or on our list of helpful resources .
A Serious Sleep Disorder
In addition to afflicted individuals experiencing interrupted sleep, sleep apnea has been known to increase the risk of stroke and has been immediately associated with hypertension. Sleep apnea can be a life threatening disease if left unattended, and sufferers are three times more likely to have heart disease. According to one study, roughly 38,000 deaths per year are attributed to cardiovascular problems that somehow relate to sleep apnea.
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are three main types of sleep apnea: Obstructive (caused by relaxation of throat muscles and narrowing of airway), Central (caused by the brain improperly sending signals to control breathing), and Mixed (a combination of the two). Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome is a sleep disorder similar to Obstructive Sleep Apnea, where the airway collapses or reduces to restrict breathing. Follow the links below to find out more about the different types of Sleep Apnea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea Risk Factors
Below are the most common risk factors associated with patients suffering with obstructive sleep apnea. If you or a loved one fall into multiple categories, you could be a candidate for sleep apnea and should ask your doctor about preliminary sleep studies.
- Neck Size (Circumference)
Excesive neck size is a very significant factor. Whether it is do to excessive fatty tissue or large neck muscles, these patients are likely to obstruct. The general rule is 16″ neck in female or 17″ neck in male.
- Enlarged Tongue/Tonsils/Adenoids
Large tonsils and adenoids result in narrowing of the oral cavity. It is the most common cause of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in children.
- Weight Problems
Overweight individuals are commonly thought to be at risk for Obstructve Sleep Apnea. However, a third of patients are not overweight. A BMI of 30 or greater is a factor.
- Irregular Head and Neck Shape
Small jaws or large tongues contribute to a narrow air space. Retruded jaws can also present a problem.
- Older Age
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is more common in the older age group. Age increases fat deposits, muscle atrophy and hormone changes.
Men are twice as likely to experience OSA then women. Testosterone is associated with Sleep Apnea. As women approach menapause, their relative Testosterone levels increase and so does the prevalance of apnea.
- Famly History
Famly history is seen as a minor risk factor. There are obvious physical attributes in some families that increase their risk. Other families have no noticable factors but experience an over relaxation of the neck muscles during sleep. This results in airway obstruction.