Sleep apnea is a condition where there is a pause or a reduction in breathing while affected individuals are sleeping. It is also defined as a pause of 10 seconds or more in breathing while asleep. It may result in a four percent or more drop in oxygen in the blood due to the cessation of breathing. Most individuals experiencing severe sleep apnea are often not aware of their condition. The people who frequently notice its occurrence are members of the sufferer's family, especially their bed partners.
Incidence is more common in adults and quite rare in children. Causes of severe sleep apnea usually depend on its type. One type is central sleep apnea, in which the brain fails to send signals to the muscles of breathing to do their function.
The second type is obstructive sleep apnea, in which there is a blockage in the airway caused by the relaxation or collapse of the throat muscles during sleep. This is more common in obese individuals. Another type is the mixed sleep apnea, in which the obstructive and central sleep apnea are present.
There are some tests that can diagnose an individual as suffering from severe sleep apnea. The tests are usually done for about two hours while the patient is asleep, and he is observed during the different stages of sleep. Physicians are often able to tell if he is suffering from severe sleep apnea or a less severe type of apnea by calculating the number of apnea in every hour of sleep.
When sleep apnea occurs, sleep is generally disrupted and affected individuals may wake up completely. Several affected patients, however, who are in deep sleep, may only go through a transition into a state of shallow sleep. In most cases, this condition becomes chronic. It can happen three or more times in one week.
The common symptoms seen in patients with severe sleep apnea include poor concentration, daytime sleepiness, problems with memory, and inability to perform their work well. They may also be irritable and anxious, and may experience frequent headaches. Insomnia may likewise ensue, as their partners may have to wake them up every time an episode occurs.
Several complications may arise if severe sleep apnea is left untreated. This increases the risk for depression, impotence, diabetes, and memory loss. Untreated severe sleep apnea may also worsen heart problems or even lead to heart problems like hypertension, coronary artery disease, heart attack, and stroke. Treatment includes use of sleep apnea equipment, surgery, medications, and lifestyle changes.