The Greek word “apnea” means “without breath.” Sleep apnea is characterized by repeated breathing stoppages during sleep, sometimes hundreds of times per night and often for as long as a minute. When breathing resumes it can be associated with explosive snores. There are three different types of sleep apnea:
1. Obstructive is the most common. It is caused by a physical blockage of the airway, usually because the soft tissue at the rear of the throat has settled and closes off the throat to air.
2. In Central sleep apnea, there is no physical blockage, but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breath.
3. Mixed apnea, as you might guess, is a combination of the two.
In all three types, the brain awakens the body enough to start breathing again. But the quality of sleep suffers. You may be partially awakened in this manner hundreds of times in a night, making it impossible to fall into the needed deep sleep stages. You’re often snoring all night long. Because of this, sleep apnea is often blamed for lack of energy and attentiveness at the job and for traffic accidents.
But left untreated, sleep apnea has even worse affects. It can cause high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease. It causes memory problems, weight gain, headaches and impotency. This is nothing to take lightly. If you notice sleep apnea in yourself or a family member, seek medical advice at once.
Fortunately, sleep apnea can be diagnosed and treated. Unfortunately the medical profession has pretty much ignored sleep apnea for a long time, and this is still the case. It’s very common, and is suspected to affect more than 12 million Americans. It hits males more than females, mostly over age 40, and overweight. However, it can strike anyone of any age. The vast majority of sufferers remain undiagnosed today.
If you think you or a loved one may suffer from sleep apnea, please talk to your doctor. It could lead to serious health issues.