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What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea (AP-ne-ah) is a common but serious sleep disorder that causes a person to stop breathing while asleep.  This pause in breathing may range from a few seconds to a minute or more.  The pauses in breathing can occur 5 to 30 times or more per hour, all night long.  A gasping, snorting or choking sound typically occurs when you begin to breathe again. When your breathing stops, your brain and the rest of your body are not getting enough oxygen.  Normal sleep patterns are disrupted; the result is poor sleep quality that makes you tired throughout the day.  

Sleep apnea is a chronic (ongoing) disorder that is often undiagnosed.  It generally cannot be detected at routine checkups and there are no blood tests to detect it.

The two main types of sleep apnea:
•    Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): The more common form of sleep apnea, it is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.
•    Central sleep apnea: Unlike OSA, the airway is not blocked but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe due to instability in the respiratory control center.

Obstructive sleep apnea is the more common type of sleep apnea.  It occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax.  The tongue, the soft palate, the uvula (the piece of tissue that hangs from the soft palate) and tonsils are supported by these muscles.  When these muscles relax, the airway constricts or becomes completely blocked.  Snoring occurs when air squeezes past the partial blockage.  

Central sleep apnea is the less common type of sleep apnea.  Snoring is seldom heard with central sleep apnea.

In addition to the above, a third type of sleep apnea is:

•    Complex Sleep Apnea: is a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea.

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