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What is Sleep Apnea?

Snoring and daytime fatigue are the two main symptoms of people with sleep apnea. Learn more about this common, but underestimated, health condition.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD,
July 25, 2013
Episode #106

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What is Sleep Apnea?

Do you suffer from daytime fatigue? Do you snore? If so, you may suffer from something called “obstructive sleep apnea.” This occurs in up to 10% of our population, but is thought to be one of those underestimated health conditions where a lot more people suffer from it, but just don’t know it yet (like diabetes). That is why I think it’s a good idea to make sure all my listeners learn about sleep apnea, to potentially help themselves or someone they love who may be affected by this disruptive ailment. 

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is defined as pauses in air flow of greater than 10 seconds in length (hence the term “apnea”) during sleep. These pauses are caused by the collapse of the soft tissues in the back of the throat called the “pharyngeal” tissue. Sometimes the pauses are significant enough to cause a decrease in oxygen reaching the brain. This causes fragmentation in sleep, and patients are often very sleepy during the daytime as a result. Some report diminished functioning at work, along with the need to nap during the day. Patients may be so sleepy during the day, that they even fall asleep at the wheel of a car while driving—very scary.

People with the following conditions are more prone towards developing sleep apnea:

  • Males

  • The elderly

  • High BMI (body mass index)

  • Obesity

  • Snoring

  • Heavy alcohol consumption

  • Sleep aid use

  • Sleeping without dentures

  • Increased neck girth (over 17 cm in men and 16 cm in women, if you feel the urge to get the tape measurer)

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

As a physician, whenever a patient comes to me complaining of fatigue, I always ask about the following other possible symptoms of sleep apnea:

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