• By Dana Sparks

Sleep apnea: The serious sleep disorder

June 19, 2017

medical illustration of sleep apneaSleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. You may have sleep apnea if you snore loudly, and you feel tired even after a full night's sleep.

The main types of sleep apnea are:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea, the more common form that occurs when throat muscles relax.
  • Central sleep apnea, which occurs when your brain doesn't send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome, also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

The signs and symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apneas overlap, sometimes making the type of sleep apnea more difficult to determine. The most common signs and symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apneas include:

  • Loud snoring, which is usually more prominent in obstructive sleep apnea
  • Episodes of breathing cessation during sleep witnessed by another person
  • Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath, which more likely indicates central sleep apnea
  • Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
  • Morning headache
  • Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
  • Attention problems
  • Irritability

Consult a medical professional if you experience, or if your partner notices, the following:

  • Snoring loud enough to disturb the sleep of others or yourself
  • Shortness of breath, gasping for air or choking that awakens you from sleep
  • Intermittent pauses in your breathing during sleep
  • Excessive daytime drowsiness, which may cause you to fall asleep while you're working, watching television or even driving

Many people don't think of snoring as a sign of something potentially serious, and not everyone who has sleep apnea snores. But be sure to talk to your doctor if you experience loud snoring, especially snoring that's punctuated by periods of silence.

Ask your doctor about any sleep problem that leaves you chronically fatigued, sleepy and irritable. Excessive daytime drowsiness (hypersomnia) may be due to sleep apnea or to other disorders, such as narcolepsy. Treatment can ease your symptoms and may help prevent heart problems and other complications.

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