Sleep Apnea - Causes, Symptoms and Tests
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most widespread form of sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a “condition characterized by episodes of stopped breathing during sleep.” Sometimes sleep apnea is referred to as obstructive sleep apnea syndrome or sleep apnea syndrome.
In most healthy individuals, the muscles that work the throat’s upper portion make sure that the flow of air into and out of the lungs is steady and continuous. During sleep these muscles relax slightly but still manage to do their job properly.
However the sleep apnea sufferers have airways that are much narrower and therefore when the muscles relax, which causes the airway to partially or entirely close up thereby no longer allowing for the passage of air to the lungs.
Snoring and labored breathing leading to a sleep apnea episode will be the result of this happening. No air can reach the lungs at all when a total blockage takes place. It is not clear to medical experts and researchers why in some people their breathing stops all together during periods of deep sleep (or REM sleep).
These sleep apnea episodes (also known as apneic events) can last for ten seconds at a time and upwards in more severe cases. These episodes are followed by the person’s awareness that they have stopped breathing and a struggle to regain breath.
This effort to breathe again regularly takes the form of gasping, choking or even snorting. Afterwards the person generally falls into a lighter period of sleep and then the pattern may begin all over again.
The result is a person who suffers from sleep that is fragmented and doesn’t allow them the amount of rest they need on a nightly basis. This can lead to a host of health problems, one of which is excessive daytime tiredness.
One of the reasons for the daytime symptoms is the fact that the oxygen level in the blood stream falls extremely during an apnea episode. Hypoxia is the name given to the condition when a person suffers from chronically low levels of oxygen.
It is important to be aware that many individuals who suffer from sleep apnea are unaware of their problem. Often it must be something that must be seen by others and brought to their attention. These individuals are aware of how excessively tired they are throughout the daytime but don’t always know why.
Symptoms Of Sleep Apnea
The most common symptoms of sleep apnea include
- Loud and habitual snoring
- Awakening in the morning and not feeling rested
- Headaches in the morning
- Problems with memory and attention span
- Changes in personality
- Falling asleep at inopportune times
- High blood pressure
- Hyperactivity (in children only)
- Swelling of legs in severe cases
A visit to the doctor and a total medical history is the first step to diagnosing sleep apnea in a patient. The doctor in particular will look over the patient’s neck, throat and mouth for any growths or abnormalities.
If sleep apnea is suspected, the physician will send the patient for a sleep study known as a polysomnogram (or PSG). This test records
- Brain waves
- Eye movement
- Breathing rate
- Muscle activity
- Heart rate
- Oxygen levels in the blood
- How much air is being inhaled and exhaled while the patient sleeps