Obstructive sleep apnea is one of the most common and most important sleep disorders, because of the possible serious consequences. It is probably present in at least 3% of the general population but has been reported in up to 40% of middle aged men. It is characterized by repetitive episodes of complete or partial airway obstruction.
The most common complaints are excessive daytime sleepiness and frequent awakenings, but there can also be associated bruxism (grinding of teeth), dry mouth on awakening, morning headaches, erectile dysfunction, memory deficits, and snoring. Upper airway obstruction in sleep apnea usually occurs between the epiglottis and the soft palate. As muscle tone decreases during non-REM and particularly REM sleep, the potential for obstruction increases. Obesity of the upper body can also contribute to the disease.
Treatment options include continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), oral appliances for repositioning of the airway, surgery (uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, reducing the tissue in the throat and improving airflow), and conservative treatments (sleep positioning, weight loss).
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This video is one in a series that explains the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea. For more information, visit www.understandingsleep.org