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Sleep Apnea - Understanding the Basics

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is caused by a blockage of the airway, commonly when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses and closes during sleep.

Central Sleep Apnea is when the brain fails to signal the muscles to breath, even though the airway is not blocked.

Mixed Sleep Apnea is a combination of obstructive and central, as the name implies.


The causes of sleep apnea include:

Excessive weight- breathing may be obstructed by fat deposits around the upper airway.

Neck circumference- A thick neck may narrow the airway. A circumference of 17 inches or more gives one an increased risk of obstructive sleep apnea.

Smoking- Smoking may increase the amount of inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway.

Alcohol, sedatives, and tranquilizers- the use of these substances relax the muscles in the throat, thus making it easier for them to not function properly.

Being male- men are twice as likely to have sleep apnea.

Being older- Adults over 65 are two to three times more likely to experience obstructive sleep apnea.

Family history- sleep apnea may be hereditary. Those who have family members suffering from obstructive sleep apnea are at greater risk then those who have no family history of this illness.

Heart disorders- Those with congestive heart failure or Atrial fibrillation are at risk for central sleep apnea.

Stroke or brain tumor- Conditions that affect the brain can increase the chances of an individual to develop central sleep apnea.

Neuromuscular disorders- Spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis can affect the central nervous systems’ breathing functions.