Jenna Hollenstein, MS, RD
Sleep apnea occurs when breathing stops for brief periods of time while a person is sleeping. It can last for 10-30 seconds, and may occur up to 20-30 times per hour. During one night of sleep, this can cause up to 400 episodes of interrupted breathing.
There are three types of respiratory events:
Factors that increase your chances of developing sleep apnea include:
Symptoms may include:
People with chronic, untreated sleep apnea may be at risk for:
An overnight sleep study is used to help diagnose sleep apnea.
helps detect the presence and severity of sleep apnea. During sleep, it measures your:
In addition to sleep studies, your doctor may order:
There are a number of treatment options for sleep apnea, including:
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)
entails wearing a mask over your nose and/or mouth during sleep. An air blower forces enough constant and continuous air through your air passages to prevent the tissues from collapsing and blocking the airway. In some cases, dental appliances that help keep the tongue or jaw in a more forward position may help.
In some cases, surgery may be recommended. It is most often beneficial in pediatric patients.
Types of surgery that may be done to treat severe cases of sleep apnea include:
Bariatric surgery may help with weight loss in some people who are
obese. This surgery may reduce many of the complications that are related to obesity, including sleep apnea.
Only used in central apnea,
may help improve the ability to regulate breathing. Overall, there is not a lot of evidence to support the use of medicines to treat sleep apnea.
Supplemental oxygen may be given if blood levels of oxygen fall too low during sleep, even after opening the airway.
You may be able to prevent sleep apnea by maintaining a
healthy weight. Avoid alcohol, nicotine, and sedatives, which may contribute to airway obstruction.
American Sleep Apnea Association
National Sleep Foundation
Canadian Lung Association
Canadian Sleep Society
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Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated May 23, 2013. Accessed June 3, 2013.
Pack AI, Maislin G. Who should get treated for sleep apnea?
Ann Intern Med. 2001;134:1065-1067.
American Sleep Apnea Association website. Available at:
http://www.sleepapnea.org/learn/sleep-apnea.html. Accessed June 3, 2013.
Smith I, Lasserson TJ, Wright J. Drug therapy for obstructive sleep apnea.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006;19:CD003002.
Last reviewed June 2013 by Rimas Lukas, MD; Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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