Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the most common form of sleep apnea, a health condition that causes the body to stop breathing repeatedly during sleep.

For most OSA patients, the apnea ‘event’ (breathing stopped) occurs multiple times per hour overnight.

Normal Breathing

Sleep Apnea

Snoring & Obstructive Sleep Apnea

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

The most characteristic sign of OSA is chronic, loud snoring followed by choking or gasping sounds. As the loose soft tissues in the airway begin to sag and restrict air flow, a limited amount of air passes through and vibrates against the tissues to create the loud, raspy sound of snoring.

  • During deep sleep, all of our body muscles and tissues become fully relaxed.
  • For OSA patients, as the body enters a relaxed state, the airway soft tissue structures sag and droop, obstructing the airway.
  • When the airway becomes fully blocked, the patient stops breathing.
  • As the brain detects that breathing has stopped, the sleep cycle is interrupted and has to start over, keeping the patient from getting into deep sleep and REM sleep when the body regenerates and heals.
  • Breathing again, the body falls back asleep (and the cycle repeats again).

Often, obstructive sleep apnea patients are not aware of how heavily they snore until a sleep partner tells them. The common belief is that ‘everybody snores’ - so, many patients live with undiagnosed OSA. Not all patients that snore have obstructive sleep apnea, however. Learn more about Snoring.

OSA Symptoms

Other signs and symptoms of OSA can be varied and do not always seem clearly connected to a sleep disorder. The OSA patient may just think they have trouble sleeping, or notice other symptoms and not realize they have a serious health problem.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea patients may experience:

  • Morning headaches
  • Dry, sore throat when waking up
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Insomnia
  • Sleep incontinence
  • Depression
  • Erectile dysfunction or loss of libido

How is Obstructive Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

Obstructive sleep apnea is diagnosed by medical sleep professionals with a sleep study that is performed using sensor technology at a sleep testing facility. The study measures vital signs, breathing patterns, brain wave and muscle activity, eye movement and other diagnostic data while the patient sleeps (polysomnogram).

Portable home sleep study equipment may also be used by your doctor for screening or follow up testing. While not as detailed as a sleep study, home testing equipment tracks basic breathing and heart rates and oxygen saturation levels during sleep.

Related Health Issues & OSA

A diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea may be related to other health conditions:

  • Obesity, smoking or alcohol use can impact breathing health, along with some drugs and medications.
  • Major illnesses such as congestive heart failure, diabetes, asthma, previous stroke, high blood pressure, thyroid problems or hormonal disorders may be a contributing cause of obstructive sleep apnea or central sleep apnea.
  • Patients with a family history of sleep-disordered breathing illness may be more likely to develop OSA.
  • The risk of OSA increases with age, and men are statistically more likely to have OSA than women.

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