Sleep apnea is most often associated with excessive snoring. Fewer are aware that more severe symptoms commonly accompany this disorder. The term "apnea" is Greek for "without breath." Someone who suffers from sleep apnea stops breathing while asleep. Symptoms vary depending on the severity and the type of apnea the patient suffers from.
There are two types of sleep apnea: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Central Sleep Apnea. OSA is caused by a blockage in the airway, most commonly a flap of excess tissue that closes over the throat. Central sleep apnea is a miscommunication between the brain and the breathing functions, and is often the result of heart or brain disorders. It is possible to have one type of apnea or a combination of the two, called mixed apnea. The apnea symptoms for both types are very similar.
Most people who have sleep apnea will notice their symptoms before others will. They most often feel sleepiness and an inability to concentrate during the day. Many feel that they sleep without resting, that the night seems to go by unnoticed, and the alarm is going off before they feel rested. Other apnea symptoms they may notice are heartburn, headaches and swelling of the extremities.
Friends and family may notice other apnea symptoms that would otherwise go unnoticed by the sufferer. Snoring is the number one complaint loved ones make, since nearly every person who suffers from apnea will snore loudly and excessively. Bed mates will also notice tossing and turning, and maybe even be able to see the afflicted individual stop breathing. Those with mild apnea will stop breathing up to five times an hour, while the most severe cases stop breathing more than 50.
There are also less obvious apnea symptoms that can only be diagnosed by proper testing. Problems like high blood pressure, obesity, weight gain, and even impotency have been linked to apnea. A great majority of cases go undiagnosed because sufferers don't realize that these problems can be intertwined with a disorder that is often considered more of a nuisance than a major medical concern.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is one technique that has been studied in the treatment of apnea. Supporters of the treatment believe that it has positive outcomes for those with mild OSA, and is the most common treatment to try first. Other techniques include diet and lifestyle changes, and surgery in the most severe cases.