Patient Resource Center

123 Capcom Avenue, Suite 3 Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587 Tel: 919-570-5277 Fax: 919-570-5377

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Sleep and CPAP Guide

Understanding Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a medical condition that has been officially diagnosed in around 18 million men and women in the United States, though doctors and medical professionals estimate there are millions more that are undiagnosed.

In sleep apnea, the affected person stops breathing for 5 to 60 seconds at a time anywhere between 10 and 100 times a night. The cause of these pauses, or apneas (Greek for “without breath”), is most commonly an obstruction in the airway, hence the name Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). The blockages in OSA are caused by the soft tissue in the back of the throat and tongue collapsing and restricting the size of the airway. However, this is not the only form of sleep apnea.

Central Sleep Apnea, or CSA, occurs when the brain is sending the incorrect signals to the muscles that control breathing, resulting in the many pauses throughout the night. The pauses in breathing in both forms of sleep apnea decrease oxygen flow to the brain and create a buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood.

The consequences of leaving sleep apnea untreated are dangerous. Stroke, high blood pressure, heart failure, heart attacks, diabetes and depression can be results from leaving sleep apnea untreated. That's why it's important to know the warning signs:

  • Loud snoring
  • Waking up gasping for breath
  • Restless sleep
  • Morning headaches and sore throat
  • Feeling fatigued during the day
  • Moodiness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Falling asleep at work, in meetings, while driving or watching TV

Experiencing one or more of these symptoms could mean sleep apnea is present, and a visit to a doctor should be a priority to see if a sleep study is needed. If sleep apnea is present, then CPAP therapy is the next step.