What is sleep apnea

| February 11, 2012 | 0 Comments

A sleep apnea occurs when breathing stops, meaning there is a total cessation of air flow, or breathing is significantly reduced for a period of time.

There are different ways to describe or define an apnea, including the following:

  • When breathing stops for 10 or more seconds.
  • When a person takes less than 25% of the normal amount of breaths during a period lasting 10 or more seconds.
  • When a person experiences at least a 4% drop in the amount of oxygen in the blood due to the reduced transfer of oxygen into the blood which occurs when breathing stops.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

sleep apnea

sleep apnea

The type of apnea most people suffer from is obstructive sleep apnea, and central sleep apnea is the less common.

Sleep apnea is an obstructive disorder in which breathing is either paused or reduced during sleep.  Children rarely suffer it, but sleep apnea is common among adults.

A person’s sleep is usually disrupted when an apnea occurs because of the inadequate level of breathing and the reduction of oxygen levels in the blood.  A person may awaken because of a sleep apnea.  But sometimes an apnea will cause a person to move from a deep sleep into a shallow sleep mode.

Apneas and Hypopneas

Apneas are typically measured during all stages of sleep, usually over a period of two hours.  The severity of apnea is determined first by counting the number of apneas.  Next, divide that amount by the number of hours of sleep.  This equation is referred to as the apnea index (AI).  The greater the apnea index, the more severe the apnea.

Testing may determine that a person has hypopnea, which is less severe than apnea but still indicates a reduction in breathing.

Hypopnea is defined in a variety of ways, as follows:

  • A fleeting airflow reduction which lasts for at least 10 seconds
  • Shallow breathing
  • A respiratory rate that’s abnormally low

The hypopnea index (HI) is calculated in the same way that the AI index is determined.  The number of hypopneas is divided by the number of hours of sleep.

An apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) combines apneas and hypopneas so that the overall severity of patients’ sleep disorders can be identified.  This includes disruptions in sleep and desaturations, which is to say one of the consequences of apnea is an abnormally low level of oxygen present in the blood.

Sleep apnea can also be measured by the respiratory disturbance index (RDI).  Similar to the AHI, the RDI takes into consideration respiratory events which disrupt sleep but may not technically be defined as apneas or hypopneas.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

A person is diagnosed with sleep apnea if they have about one episode of either apnea or hypopnea every 4 minutes.

Continued sleep apnea with at least 5 episodes of apnea or hypopnea per hour can affect you by causing a stroke, high blood pressure (hypertension), congestive heart failure (low blood flow to the heart), daytime fatigue syndrome, mood disorders, and/or insomnia.

The following are common symptoms of sleep apnea which you can detect:

  • Memory problems
  • Lack of concentration
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Not feeling refreshed when you wake up
  • Personality changes
  • Feeling tired
  • Increased tension
  • Headaches in the morning or at night
  • A sour taste in your mouth during the nighttime
  • Heartburn
  • Nocturia (frequent urination at night)
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Night sweats accompanied by chest pain
  • Children may be hindered in their growth

Some of the symptoms of sleep apnea often go undetected because they occur during sleep, as follows:

  • Snoring loudly
  • Apnea
  • Restlessness during sleep, with tossing and turning
  • Episodes of gasping or choking

Treatment of Sleep Apnea

Sometimes lifestyle changes can cure mild cases sleep apnea, such as getting more exercise and eating more healthy foods in order to lose weight, falling asleep on your side or stomach instead of your back, and opening your nasal passages, such as with saline solutions.

If your doctor gives you a diagnosis of sleep apnea, there are many possible treatments, including surgical and nonsurgical.  Common treatments involve:

  • Breathing a supplemental oxygen supply as you’re sleeping
  • The use of breathing devices, such as the Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure (CPAP), though it can cause discomfort such as throat irritation
  • Treatment of medical conditions which cause sleep apnea, such as a disorder in the heart muscles and nerves (neuromuscular disorder)

Sleep apnea is a common disorder, and there are numerous possible treatments.  A doctor should be consulted to find the appropriate treatment for sleep apnea.

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Category: Sleep Disorders

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