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What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is very common. Twenty-six percent of adults are at high risk to develop OSA. Six to nine percent of men and two to six percent of women already have OSA while most have not been diagnosed.
  • Many children have OSA because of large tonsils or obesity.
  • A major risk factor is obesity, but not all people who have OSA are overweight.
  • The most common symptoms are loud snoring, stopping breathing during sleep, daytime sleepiness, and fatigue.
  • Other symptoms include: restless sleep, snorting and gasping during sleep, not feeling refreshed upon awakening and morning headaches.
  • OSA is known to be a cause of or associated with:
    • High blood pressure
    • Congestive heart failure
    • Heart arrhythmias
    • Stroke
    • Diabetes
    • Auto accidents (second leading cause)
    • Impaired concentration and memory
    • Unexplained death during sleep
  • In children, OSA is a cause of poor daytime performance at home and school. Children thought to have learning disabilities should be evaluated for sleep apnea. Tonsillectomy is usually curative when tonsils are enlarged.
  • Alcohol and sedatives worsen OSA.
  • Diagnosis is established by a sleep study (polysomnogram) done in a sleep lab such as the Mary Washington Hospital or Stafford Hospital Sleep and Wake Disorders Center.
  • Treatment measures include weight loss and avoidance of alcohol and sedatives before sleep. Specific treatment is with CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). CPAP has been shown to reverse symptoms and reduce the associated medical problems. Dental devices may help if CPAP is not tolerated.

Do you have sleep apnea?

  1. Do you snore loudly?
  2. Has anyone observed you stopping breathing in your sleep?
  3. Do you feel sleepiness or fatigue frequently during the day?
  4. Do you have, or are you being treated for high blood pressure?

If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, you have a high risk for having obstructed sleep apnea.

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