Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition in which breathing involuntarily stops for brief periods of time during sleep. These periods when breathing stops are called apnea or apneic episodes. Untreated, sleep apnea can cause serious health problems, including hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Symptoms of sleep apnea

Common symptoms or indicators of sleep apnea include:

  • Headaches that are difficult to treat
  • Feeling disgruntled, irritable, or grumpy
  • Forgetfulness
  • Drowsiness
  • Hyperactivity in children
  • Worsening depression
  • Leg swelling (occurs with severe sleep apnea)
  • Because sleep apnea causes a decrease in oxygen supply to the brain and other parts of the body during sleep, the quality of sleep is generally poor.


OSA is more likely to occur in older people and those who are overweight. Evidence has shown that weight loss results in a marked improvement in symptoms. Sleeping on your back can aggravate the condition.

Types of sleep apnea

  • Obstructive sleep apnea: most common type; the airway has become blocked, narrow, or floppy
  • Central sleep apnea: no blockage of the airway, but the brain fails to properly signal the respiratory muscles to breathe
  • Mixed sleep apnea: a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea

How is obstructive sleep apnea diagnosed?

A diagnosis of sleep apnea requires a complete history and physical examination. Symptoms such as drowsiness and snoring are strong indicators of the condition. The head and neck will be examined to identify physical factors associated with sleep apnea and a variety of tests may be performed, including a polysomnogram (sleep study), EEG and EOM, EMG, EKG, pulse oximetry, and arterial blood gas (ABG) study.


A CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure therapy, is the first line of treatment for OSA. This therapy is administered through a facemask worn during sleep that gently delivers positive airflow to keep the airways open. A dental device may also help to keep the lower jaw positioned forward. Other methods to address sleep apnea include weight loss, nasal decongestants, and surgery.