What is Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a serious medical condition that affects one in every four men and one in every eleven women in middle age. It results from collapse of the upper airway tissues as the muscles within them relax during sleep. As a result of this obstruction, airflow to the lungs is blocked and the blood oxygen level decreases. When the brain detects a dangerously low level of oxygen in the blood, it sends a signal to wake and take a deep breath. The waking, called an arousal, is not a conscious waking, but rather a change in the brainwaves to come out of a sleeping state. In sending this signal, the brain causes the heart rate and blood pressure to increase. This cycle of airway obstruction, decreased oxygen, arousals and increased blood pressure can occur hundreds of times a night, with patients completely unaware.
As a result of their fragmented sleep, patients with sleep apnea wake unrefreshed and may be tired during the day. Obstructive sleep apnea is also associated with depression, irritability, difficulty concentrating, frequent nighttime urination and sexual dysfunction.
Worse, sleep apnea is associated with high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, heart rhythm disturbances, diabetes and sudden death. NFL player Reggie White’s death was found to result from complications of untreated sleep apnea.
Risk factors for having obstructive sleep apnea include being overweight, having high blood pressure and witnessed gasping, choking or stopping breathing during sleep. However there are many patients with obstructive sleep apnea do not have these risk factors and bed partners are not reliable in detecting apnea. As a result, the majority of patients with sleep apnea go undiagnosed.
Obstructive sleep apnea is diagnosed by an overnight sleep study. Patients sleep at our facility while information about their breathing, oxygen level and sleep stage is collected.