Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a chronic condition characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing that disrupt your sleep three or more nights a week. and cause excessive daytime sleepiness. It is estimated that more than 22 million American adults have sleep apnea. More than half of the people who have this condition are overweight.
Health care practitioners diagnose sleep apnea based on your medical and family histories, a physical exam and results from sleep studies.
If you have sleep apnea, your airways can be blocked or narrowed during sleep because:
Do you snore? Not enough air flows into your lungs when your airways are fully or partly blocked during sleep. This can cause loud snoring and a drop in blood oxygen levels.
When the oxygen drops to dangerous levels, it triggers your brain to disturb your sleep. This helps tighten the upper airway muscles and open your windpipe. Normal breaths start again, often with a loud snort or choking sound.
Frequent drops in oxygen levels and reduced sleep quality trigger the release of stress hormones. These compounds raise your heart rate and increase your risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and irregular heartbeats. The hormones also raise the risk for, or worsen heart failure.
Untreated sleep apnea can also lead to changes in how your body uses energy. These changes increase your risk for obesity and diabetes.