Sleep apnea can occur when breathing is interrupted while sleeping. There are different types of sleep apnea: Central sleep apnea happens when the brain fails to send signals to muscles that control and initiate breathing. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when throat muscles relax, and air cannot flow in and out through the nose and mouth; this form is more common. Complex sleep apnea syndrome happens when the individual suffers both central and obstructive sleep apnea. The individual may not even be aware that there is a problem, as the body will restart breathing while he or she is still sleeping. This may sound harmless, but it can result in fatigue during the day. In more severe manifestations, sleep apnea is associated with serious illness including, high blood pressure, stroke, and even heart attack.
This potentially serious condition is quite common. In its first description in 1965, this breathing disorder was characterized by short disturbances in breathing while sleeping. In Greek, apnea means "want of breath."
The upper throat muscles of a non-sufferer works to keep the throat open for air flow to the lungs. During sleep, the muscles relax, but the passage remains open for breathing. People with a narrow passage can’t get air into their lungs as muscles relax.
Sleep apnea sufferers may experience 20 to 30 or more involuntary pauses in breathing a night--with some people feeling a choking sensation. While loud snoring and labored breathing accompanies this disorder, not every person who snores suffers sleep apnea.
These interruptions can result in morning headaches and daytime sleepiness, and are associated with high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and even stroke or heart attack.
People who snore loudly, who are overweight, who suffer high blood pressure, or have a physical abnormality in the airway are more likely to develop the condition. There may also be a genetic component as well. Some 22 million Americans have this condition, with 80 percent of people, with moderate to severe problems, going undiagnosed. No age bracket goes untouched and both sexes suffer, though more men have the condition than women.