Sleep apnea is a serious condition characterized by interrupted breathing during sleep. Those interruptions can deprive the brain and body of much-needed oxygen.

There are two types of sleep apnea:

  1. Obstructive sleep apnea: Caused by an airway block, usually from soft tissue at the back of the throat collapsing during sleep
  2. Central sleep apnea: Less common, where the muscles lack signals from the brain telling them to breathe

Who’s At Risk for Sleep Apnea

Although sleep apnea can occur in anyone, there are several factors that increase risk. These include:

  • Middle to older-aged men
  • Postmenopausal women
  • Abnormal head and neck structure
  • Large necks (more than 17inches for men, and 16 inches for women)
  • Down Syndrome
  • Children with large tonsils and adenoids
  • Endocrine disorders like Acromegaly and Hypothyroidism
  • Nasal structure abnormalities (deviated septum, rhinitis)
  • Obesity (BMI greater than 30)
  • Family history of sleep apnea
  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux)

Effects of Sleep Apnea

Untreated sleep apnea can lead to more serious conditions. These include:

  • Hypertension (blood pressure elevation)
  • Higher mortality from heart disease
  • Fast heart rate
  • Fluctuating oxygen levels
  • Increased stroke risk
  • Impairment of glucose tolerance and insulin resistance
  • Mood changes
  • Decreased ability to focus and concentrate
  • Increase risk of car accidents
  • Sleep disturbance of bed partner

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

  • Loud snoring
  • Sleepiness during the day or while driving
  • Restless sleep
  • Waking up with a gasp
  • Walking up with dry throat or soreness
  • Insomnia
  • Mood changes
  • Loss of libido
  • Concentration difficulties

If you suspect that you or a loved one has sleep apnea, consult a general practitioner.