Obstructive sleep apnea

Synonyms: Sleep apnea, Apnea

Medical Specialties: Family practice, Internal medicine

Clinical Definition

Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when breathing is interrupted, and even ceases, repeatedly as a person sleeps, sometimes hundreds of times per single night. The pause in breathing can last 10 seconds or more. Sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open. 

In Our Own Words

Obstructive sleep apnea, usually just called sleep apnea or apnea, is a serious problem. It occurs when the upper airway is blocked, either partially or completely, during sleep. The blockage occurs when the muscles and soft tissues of the throat collapse while the patient is trying to inhale. This elongated breathing pause is usually followed by a loud gasp or body jerk as breathing resumes. 


Patients with apnea may be at increased risk for daytime sleepiness and accidents, but also more serious conditions like heart disease, stroke and mental illness. In adults, obstructive sleep apnea is the most common kind of sleep apnea. Treatments and interventions are available; overweight people are more likely to be affected. 

Common Types
  • Moderate
  • Severe
Side Effects
Share this article
  • Cleveland Clinic. "What is sleep apnea?" Disorders and Conditions. Oct. 2006. http://my.clevelandclinic.org. Accessed Aug. 2013.
  • Cleveland Clinic. "Treatment of Sleeping Problems.” Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorder Center. http://my.clevelandclinic.org. Accessed Aug. 2013.
  • National Sleep Foundation. "Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Sleep." Sleep Disorders. 2013. http://www.sleepfoundation.org. Accessed Aug. 2013.
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