What is Sleep Apnea?

There are over 80 types of sleep disorders, but the most common is sleep apnea, a serious, potentially life-threatening condition.

People of all ages may experience sleep apnea, although men are more likely than women to have it. Health problems such as obesity and high blood pressure increase a person's risk for sleep apnea. Enlarged tonsils and other abnormal structures in the nose and throat can cause it to develop at any age.

Sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed because many symptoms occur during sleep. Some sufferers may have their sleep disturbed hundreds of times in a night without knowing it.

Types of Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most widespread and most treatable form of sleep apnea. It occurs during sleep when the soft tissue at the back of your throat collapses and blocks your airway. This in turn causes a pause in breathing or shallow breathing.

If left untreated, the low oxygen levels caused by obstructive sleep apnea can harm the heart and other organs.

Central sleep apnea is a less common form of sleep apnea. This condition is different from obstructive sleep apnea, as central sleep apnea occurs when your brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles that control your breathing.

Central sleep apnea may occur as a result of other conditions, such as heart failure and arrhythmias.

Read a Q&A with Dr. Nayak and Dr. Mokhlesi to learn more about central sleep apnea.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

While the symptoms of sleep apnea vary from person to person, the most common are:

• Loud snoring

• Waking up with a choking or gasping sensation

• Pauses in breathing

• Insomnia

• Excessive daytime sleepiness

• Morning headaches

• Waking up with a dry mouth

• Irritability

• Difficulty paying attention while awake

At The Forefront Live: Understanding Sleep Apnea

UChicago Medicine experts Babak Mokhlesi, MD, director of the University of Chicago Medicine’s Sleep Disorder Center and colleagues Zhen Gooi, MD and Hemal Nayak, MD discuss sleep apnea, and the multidisciplinary approach to treatment.

Watch Video

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