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inboundMed Blog

What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Jul 25, 2019 12:17:13 PM / by Kevin Asp



It is estimated that approximately 20 million people in the U.S. alone suffer from sleep apnea, and of those 20 million, only about 20% of them will seek treatment. Furthermore, only about half of all people diagnosed with sleep apnea and are given continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, will continue to treat their disorder.

Our mission is to increase awareness of the health consequences that sleep apnea can cause. The simple fact that 16 million people are suffering from an easily treatable disorder that they are unaware of, or don't believe is as harmful as it really is, motivates us to expose the dangers of sleep apnea to the general public.

What is obstructive sleep apnea?

OSAxray-300Obstructive sleep apnea  is a sleep disorder in which patients stop breathing periodically during sleep. Apnea literally translates as "cessation of breathing."

During an apnea event, air is blocked from making its way to the lungs by obstructions in the upper airway. These obstructions are caused when either fatty tissues in the throat collapse back into the airway, enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids block the airway, or the tongue falls back into the airway.

This often leads to loud snorts and even choking sounds as the patient struggles to breathe (most often without even knowing it) followed by loud gasps. Apnea events often last for up to 10 seconds at a time before breathing resumes for a period.

When blood oxygen levels in the body drop, the brain partially awakens from sleep to send signals to the respiratory system to increase breathing effort.

Some patients experience hundreds of apnea events in a night of sleep.

Depending on the amount of cessations experienced in a given night, determines the severity of OSA:

  • Mild OSA. Patient experiences 5-14 breathing interruptions in an hour.

  • Moderate OSA. Patient experiences 15-30 breathing interruptions in an hour.

  • Severe OSA. Patient experiences 30 or more breathing interruptions in an hour.

How does sleep apnea affect your health?

There are a slew of long term medical conditions associated with sleep apnea. When a patient experiences an apnea event, the oxygen levels in the blood drop significantly. The brain then partially wakes from sleep to send signals to the nervous system to increase breathing effort by constricting the blood vessels to allow for more oxygen saturation in the blood stream.

OSA_heartconditions200Blood vessels become constricted during sleep in an effort to keep oxygen flowing to the various systems in the body. Unfortunately, the constrictions continue even during periods of wakefulness leading to high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is associated with a number of serious medical conditions such as:

  • Heart disease

  • Heart failure

  • Heart attack

  • Heart arrhythmia

  • Stroke

Other Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

OSA_symptoms280Some of the more noticeable conditions of OSA are those that may be more readily identified by patients or their bed partners.

  • Snoring is the sound caused by vibrations in the upper respiratory system by partially blocked airflow. It should be noted that not all sufferers of sleep apnea snore, and not all those that snore have sleep apnea. However, snoring is often the most noticeable symptom of sleep apnea and is usually a strong indicator of nocturnal breathing troubles.

  • Frequent breaks in breathing. When a person stops breathing during sleep for a few seconds at a time followed by gasping or choking as they resume breathing again, it's a very stong sign of OSA.

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness. Even though the patient may think they slept through the night because the time they went to bed to the time they rose was between the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep, sleep apnea disrupts sleep leading to excessive daytime sleepiness. When the brain is forced to awaken to increase breathing effort every couple of minutes during sleep, it's not spending critical periods of time in the deeper phases of sleep that it needs to make sleep efficient and restorative.

  • Morning headaches are caused by the decreased amounts of oxygen reaching the brain during sleep.

  • Irritability, depression, and/or mood swings are also common symptoms of sleep apnea. Losing sleep every night can make you more prone to anxiety, irritability, having a short temper, and over time, even lead to depression.

  • Diabetes. When a person undergoes multiple lapses in breathing with awakenings all night long, for weeks and months at a time, this constant system correction leads to elevated blood sugar levels and impaired insulin sensitivity. Like a line of falling dominoes, unchecked insulin sensitivity leads to protracted insulin resistance, which then leads to glucose intolerance, and diabetes results. 




Topics: sleep apnea, snoring

Kevin Asp

Written by Kevin Asp

Kevin Asp is the President and Founder of inboundMed and SomnoSure. He is the past founder and President of Alaska Sleep Clinic, touted as the most trafficked sleep center website in the world.

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