About Sleep Apnoea
Background information on sleep apnoea, including common symptoms and associated risks.
What is obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)?
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a sleep condition characterised by the intermittent partial or entire obstruction of the upper airway. This occurs when the muscles in back of your throat relax, narrowing or closing the airway when you breathe in. This causes cessation of breathing (apnoea) or under-breathing (hypopnea).
What are the symptoms of sleep apnoea?
Many adults with OSA have no recollection of stopping breathing during the night. However, most have one or more of the following symptoms:
- excessive daytime sleepiness
- loud snoring
- pauses in breathing or gasping reported by bed partner
- morning headache
- awakening with a dry mouth
What are the causes of sleep apnoea?
The most common cause of sleep apnoea is excess weight and obesity. Other risk factors for sleep apnoea include:
- sleeping on your back
- certain anatomical features such as a narrow throat, a thick neck or a round head
- smoking, excessive alcohol use and/or use of sedatives
- nasal congestion and obstruction
- enlarged tonsils or adenoids (in children)
How many people have sleep apnoea?
Sleep apnoea is the most common sleep breathing disorder affecting more than three in every ten men and nearly two in every ten women. Studies have shown that up to 80% of people with sleep apnoea are undiagnosed.
What are the risks if sleep apnoea is untreated?
Untreated, sleep apnoea can have serious health consequences and may lead to:
- high blood pressure
- increased risk of heart attack or stroke
- increased risk of type 2 diabetes
Sleep apnoea may also be responsible for impotence, reduced job productivity and motor vehicle accidents.
What are the degrees of severity of sleep apnoea and what is AHI?
Severity of sleep apnoea is often measured using the apnoea hypopnea index (AHI). AHI is the number of apnoeas (complete blockages of the airways) or hypopnoeas (partial blockages of the airways) recorded per hour of sleep. It is generally expressed as the number of events per hour. As a guide:
- normal sleep - AHI less than 5/hr
- mild sleep apnoea - AHI between 5/hr and 15/hr
- moderate sleep apnoea - AHI between 15/hr and 30/hr
- severe sleep apnoea - AHI more than 30/hr
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