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Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles surrounding your airway completely give way. Basically, your throat closes and blocks airflow into your lungs. This blockage – whether partial or complete - cuts off your oxygen supply. You may or may not be aware that you stop breathing when you fall asleep. A sleep mate will often hear you gasp or choke when the blockage opens and you are able to breathe again. People with mild sleep apnea may stop breathing only a few times an hour. People with severe sleep apnea can stop breathing as many as eighty times an hour.

Warning: Obstructive Sleep Apnea is Serious

There are two types of sleep apnea:

  1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea, and
  2. Central Sleep Apnea.

Both are serious chronic diseases.

Learn more about central sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a chronic disease that can lead to serious health problems, like extreme daytime sleepiness and high blood pressure. If you have sleep apnea and stop breathing multiple times a night, you don’t get the oxygen your body needs to function well. Your brain has to wake you up enough to start breathing again.

The repeating cycle – falling asleep, blocked airway, brain activation to start breathing again – is the reason you never get a restful night of sleep. Plus, the lack of oxygen puts extra stress on your entire body and especially on your heart. Studies have shown that you are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke if you have untreated sleep apnea. In some cases, obstructive sleep apnea can be fatal. The pro-football player Reggie White died of sleep apnea in 2004.

Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
The most common signs of sleep apnea are:
  • Loud snoring
  • Choking or gasping during sleep
  • Fighting sleepiness during the day (even at work or while driving)

Your family members may notice the symptoms before you do. Otherwise, you will probably not be aware that you have problems breathing while you are asleep.

Others signs of sleep apnea may include:

  • Morning headaches
  • Memory or learning problems
  • Feeling irritable
  • Not being able to concentrate on your work
  • Mood swings or personality changes; perhaps feeling depressed
  • Dry throat when you wake up
  • Frequent urination at night

A major side effect or symptom of obstructive sleep apnea is chronic sleepiness. People with obstructive sleep apnea often:

  • Feel sleepy even if they get enough sleep
  • Take naps during the day
  • Find it easy to nod off or fall asleep (e.g. in front of the TV, at a traffic light)

Read On...
To read more about how sleep disordered breathing (including obstructive sleep apnea) can affect your health and your quality of life click here.  
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