Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep. Breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes and may occur 5 to 100 times an hour. Typically, normal breathing then starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound. This results in a lower amount of oxygen available to your tissues and brain. The diagnosis of sleep apnea is based on the combined evaluation of clinical symptoms and of the results of a formal sleep study.
There are three different forms of sleep apnea: central sleep apnea (CSA), obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and complex or mixed sleep apnea (i.e., a combination of central and obstructive). In CSA, breathing is interrupted when your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing; in OSA, the most common form, breathing is interrupted by a physical block to airflow despite respiratory effort (when the muscle of the throat relax), and snoring is common.
Regardless of type, an individual with sleep apnea is rarely aware of having difficulty breathing, even upon awakening. Sleep apnea is recognized as a problem by others witnessing the individual during episodes or is suspected because of its effects on the body. Symptoms may be present for years (or even decades) without identification, during which time the person may become conditioned to the daytime sleepiness and fatigue associated with sleep disturbance.
Signs and Symptoms