Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep-related breathing disorder that prevents airflow during sleep. OSA occurs when the tissue in the back of the throat collapses and blocks the airway. This keeps air from getting into the lungs.
When the blood-oxygen level drops low enough, the body wakes up. It happens so quickly that the sleeper may not even remember the arousal. But waking up hundreds of times a night can make a person feel very tired the next day.
OSA patients are much more likely to suffer from strokes and heart problems, such as heart attack, congestive heart failure, and hypertension. They also have a higher incidence of work and driving-related accidents.
Sleep apnea is a very common sleep disorder. More than 18 million Americans suffer from the condition.
How do you know if you have OSA?
OSA is most common in obese, middle-aged men. OSA risk increases with weight gain because excess fat in the back of the throat can narrow the airway. Women and men with OSA often have neck sizes of more than 16 or 17 inches, respectively.
However, OSA can affect anyone.
Do you ever wake from sleep choking or gasping for breath? Has your bed partner noticed that you snore loudly or stop breathing during the night? Do you feel excessively tired during the day?
If yes, then you might have OSA.
The Epworth Sleepiness Scale can help screen for sleep apnea.
A physician needs to diagnose OSA. Diagnosis is based on the results of an overnight sleep study, called a Polysomnogram (PSG). This test will chart brain waves, heart beat and breathing during sleep. It also records arm and leg movements.
A sleep specialist will look for other conditions that may mimic or worsen the symptoms of OSA, such as:
- Another sleep disorder
- A medical condition
- Medication use
- A mental health disorder
- Substance abuse
The specialist will consider your symptoms. Ask someone who has seen you sleep if you snore loudly, stop breathing, or gasp for breath during the night. The specialist will also want to know if your symptoms began after gaining weight or stopping exercising.