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Sleep Apnea

Also called: Sleep Disordered Breathing, Apnea, Obstructive Sleep Apnea-Hypopnea, SDB

- Summary
- About sleep apnea
- Impact on heart health
- Signs and symptoms
- Diagnosis methods
- Treatment and prevention
- Questions for your doctor

Reviewed By:
David Slotnick, M.D.


Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person’s breathing stops and starts many times during sleep. These interruptions in breathing last at least 10 seconds and sometimes as long as 2 minutes. These frequent disruptions have a number of side effects. By depriving the body of oxygen repeatedly, even for short periods, and disturbing valuable sleep time, there is increased risk of symptoms such as poor concentration, daytime fatigue, headaches and even organ damage. Furthermore, there is some evidence that sleep apnea may be related to high blood pressure (hypertension), abnormal heart rhythms and pulmonary hypertension.

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central and mixed. Obstructive sleep apnea, which accounts for about 90 percent of cases, is a mechanical problem in which relaxed muscles at the back of the throat block the air passage. Central sleep apnea is a neurological problem in which the brain fails to signal the lungs to breathe. Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of both problems.

Mild sleep apnea may be relieved through weight loss, regular exercise (under the supervision of a physician for those out of shape), avoiding alcohol and refraining from sleeping on one’s back. More serious cases may require the use of medical devices or even surgery.

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Review Date: 09-25-2008

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