According to the National Sleep Foundation, over 18 million adults have sleep apnea. The number of children with the condition is difficult to evaluate, but it is estimated that between two and three percent suffer from sleep apnea, while as much as twenty percent experience habitual snoring.
Sleep apnea is a potentially harmful sleep disorder that causes breathing to repeatedly stop and start.
The two different types of the condition include: Obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea is more common and occurs when the muscles in the throat relax, while central sleep apnea occurs when the brain malfunctions and refuses to send messages to the muscles that control breathing. Central sleep apnea is less common than obstructive sleep apnea, and is often the most serious form of sleep apnea.
Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apneas often overlap, which is why doctors have difficulty pinpointing the specific condition at first assessment. Common symptoms include:
- Breathing cessation (stopped breathing). The sign is usually noticed by another person, typically the spouse or bed partner.
- Daytime sleepiness often referred to as hypersomnia.
- Difficulty remaining asleep (bouts of insomnia).
- Loud snoring.
- Periodic awakenings throughout the night, usually accompanied with a shortness of breath.
- Problems focusing or paying attention.
- Waking with a morning headache, dry mouth, and sore throat.
Loud snoring, characteristic of obstructive sleep apnea, is less common in those with central sleep apnea. The most common symptom of central sleep apnea is abrupt awakenings throughout the night, usually accompanied with difficulty catching your breath.
Causes and Risk Factors
Causes of sleep apnea are contingent on the condition type. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the throat muscles relax, causing the airway to narrow or close when a person breathes in. Adequate air is difficult to receive. When there is decreased air, lower levels of oxygen are found in the blood. The brain senses the inability to breathe and rouses the sleeping person, so that the airway reopens. The awakening is typically so brief that the individual does not remember the episode.
When the brain fails to send messages to the breathing muscles, central sleep apnea may occur. While less common, this form of sleep apnea is often more harmful. The person may awaken at night with shortness of breath or have difficulty going to sleep and remaining asleep. The most common cause of central sleep apnea is heart failure.
The most common risk factors of obstructive sleep apnea are being overweight, smoking, and genetics. Some people have a thicker neck circumference, which may offer a narrower airway. The narrowed airway may be hereditary. In some cases, people with sleep apnea have enlarged tonsils or adenoids, which may block the passage for air travel.
In central sleep apnea patients, the most common risk factors include sex, age, heart problems, and stroke. Males are more at risk to develop the condition, as are people over the age of 65. People with heart disorders, such as congestive heart failure, are more at risk for developing central sleep apnea. Stroke or brain tumors may impair the brain’s ability to signal breathing problems or regulate normal breathing. Patients are at high risk of the condition during or following a stroke.
Sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that can not only reduce a patient’s functioning during the day, it can lead to serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease or even sudden death. At the Michigan Neurology Institute Sleep Center, we know that sleeping well may improve patient’s health, daytime functioning, and quality of life. For a complete evaluation call our office at 586-771-7440