Sleep Apnea Types

Published: April 21, 2010

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Overview

There are three types of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of the condition while central sleep apnea and mixed sleep apnea are significantly rarer. All three types can cause severe health problems; however, mixed sleep apnea is the most dangerous.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea, affecting people of all ages and genders.

Symptoms occur when the tissues of the pharynx obstruct breathing during sleep. Because of this obstruction, patients will experience momentary lapses in breathing - sometimes as often as five times in one hour.

A combination of other factors can cause a person to develop obstructive sleep apnea. Physical causes include a constricted airway, obesity, bone structure, tonsil shape, and excess tissue in the airway. Blocked nasal passages can also cause sleep apnea patients to experience difficulty breathing.

An obstructed air flow passageway will produce a variety of symptoms. Because you are sleeping, you may not notice that you are experiencing complications. Your partner may complain that you are snoring softly or loudly, or your snoring may wake you up every so often throughout the night.

With obstructive sleep apnea, patients also experience shortness of breath. You may wake up intermittently throughout the night because you are having trouble catching your breath.

You may also not notice your symptoms because you are sleeping. For this reason, many people will go years - sometimes decades-without seeing a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

When you are awake, you may feel tired throughout the day without understanding why. Even if you get a full night's rest, you will feel as though you did not. You may feel tired at work or at school, and you may have trouble concentrating. You may even fall asleep throughout the day while watching television, relaxing, or working.

If you have obstructive sleep apnea, you may have a headache as soon as you wake up in the morning. You may also feel that you are dehydrated or that your mouth is dry.

Over time, obstructive sleep apnea can cause depression, irritability, insomnia, hypertension, and weight gain or loss. Serious complications such as congestive heart failure and abnormally low blood oxygen levels are also possible.

People who are at risk for OSA are men above the age of 50, women who have gone through menopause, and individuals who are overweight. Obstructive sleep apnea can affect heart health by causing hypertension and heart palpitations. Jaw shape and the size of the windpipe are also factors that affect sleep apnea.

Lifestyle adjustments such as weight loss, diet, and exercise can help treat OSA.

Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea is much rarer than obstructive sleep apnea. This type of sleep apnea causes the brain to malfunction and interfere with regular breathing. Like obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea will cause people to stop breathing multiple times throughout the night.

Central sleep apnea is a neurological condition that occurs for a variety of reasons. You may develop central sleep apnea as a result of a head injury, stroke, or nervous system disorder. Heart failure can also cause central sleep apnea. You may not notice that you have central sleep apnea since the symptoms affect you while you are sleeping.

With this type of sleep apnea, the brain periodically stops sending signals to the muscles that control breathing. A person who experiences central sleep apnea will show many symptoms that are similar to obstructive including restlessness, insomnia, daytime fatigue, and headaches. If a sleep apnea patient has an underlying neurological problem, he or she will show additional symptoms including trouble swallowing, changes in voice, weakness, tingling, and numbness. People with central sleep apnea do not always snore.

For this type of sleep apnea, a patient may need to take medications that help facilitate breathing. Patients with central sleep apnea should avoid using sedatives.

Central sleep apnea can develop from regular opiate use.

Mixed Sleep Apnea

People with mixed sleep apnea experience both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. This disorder is rare and can cause permanent damage.

Mixed sleep apnea can occur for a variety of reasons. In some situations, enduring obstructive sleep apnea can actually cause central sleep apnea to develop as a secondary disorder.

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