Overview and Facts
Sleep apnea, a disruption of breathing while asleep, is a deceiving sleep disorder - 90% of people who have sleep apnea don't know that they have it! Although episodes of choking or gasping for air might occur hundreds of times throughout the night, you may not have any recollection of struggling for breath.
Usually it is the bed partner who first notices that the person is struggling to breathe. If left untreated, this common disorder can be life-threatening.
What happens when you have an episode of sleep apnea?
When you stop breathing during sleep due to sleep apnea, the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood is upset. This imbalance stimulates the brain to restart the breathing process. The brain signals you to wake up so that the muscles of the tongue and throat can increase the size of the airway. Then, carbon dioxide can escape, and oxygen can enter the airway. These waking episodes are necessary to restart breathing (and to save your life), and you may not remember them, but they do disrupt your sleep and cause daytime exhaustion.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
OSA is the most common type of sleep apnea. It is caused by a breathing obstruction, which stops the air flow in the nose and mouth. The rest of this article discusses the causes, symptoms and treatments for OSA.
Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)
Central sleep apnea (CSA), less common than OSA, is a central nervous system disorder that occurs when the brain signal telling the body to breathe is delayed. CSA can be caused by disease or injury involving the brainstem, such as a stroke, a brain tumor, a viral brain infection, or a chronic respiratory disease. People with CSA seldom snore. However, while the causes of apnea are different in CSA and OSA, the symptoms and results are much the same – a deprivation of oxygen and poor sleep. The treatments for CSA include medications that stimulate the need to breathe and administration of oxygen.