Definition of Sleep apnea, obstructive

Reviewed on 3/29/2021

Sleep apnea, obstructive(OSA): Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder characterized by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep. It owes its name to a Greek word, apnea, meaning "want of breath."

There are two types of sleep apnea: central and obstructive.

  • Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to send the appropriate signals to the breathing muscles to initiate respirations.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when air cannot flow into or out of the person's nose or mouth although efforts to breathe continue.

Obstructive sleep apnea is much more common than central sleep apnea. In obstructive sleep apnea, the throat collapses during sleep causing the individual to snort and gasp for breath. Hundreds of these episodes can occur every night causing daytime sleepiness and increasing the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart problems. An overnight sleep study can determine the severity of the apnea. The most effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is CPAP, a mask worn at night providing Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. Patients with apnea may also benefit from surgery of the nose and throat and dental appliances.

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