Sleep Apnea Definition: What It Is and What You Need To Know About the Disorder?

The official sleep apnea definition is: a potentially dangerous sleep disorder that results in repeated cessations in breathing.  Another sleep apnea definition goes like this: it is a common disorder in which the patient has one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breathing during sleep.

What is meant by ‘common’ and ‘potentially dangerous’? 

Now that you know what the sleep apnea definition is, you also need to know that it currently affects 18 million American adults. Children too get affected by this disorder and it is estimated that obstructive sleep apnea, the more common variety of the condition affects 1 to 10%. Most of these children are between 2 and 8 years old.  Incidentally, snoring, one of the predominant signs of the disorder affects 3 top 12% children or more.

Sleep apnea is not only potentially dangerous but life-threatening too. First of all, most patients of this disorder remain undiagnosed since the symptoms usually show up during sleep. Additionally, there are no blood tests also that can be used for diagnosing the disorder. Undiagnosed and therefore untreated sleep apnea can result in:

–          Rise in blood pressure, risk of heart attack, strokes, obesity and diabetes

–          Increased risk and worsening of heart failure

–          Irregular heart beats

–          Increased risk of sleep-related accidents, primarily because of excessive daytime sleepiness, one of the main outcomes of the disorder.

In children, untreated sleep apnea can invite a host of ailments and behavioral problems including learning and developmental problems, heart problems, high blood pressure, personality changes, excessive daytime lethargy, enuresis, bed wetting, etc.

Why is understanding the sleep apnea definition important? 

The reasons why it makes sense to understand the definition is it helps you to understand the chronic disorder better. For example, you know by the sleep apnea definition that there are distressful pauses in breathing during sleep.

For how long do these breathing pauses last and how often do they happen during sleep? Each pause in breathing could last from a few seconds to a few minutes. Depending on the severity of the condition, a patient may experience 5 to 30 such pauses in an hour.

What causes these breathing pauses? Normal breathing process involves the brain sending the requisite breathing signals which are caught and subsequently obeyed by the muscles responsible for breathing. The breathing pauses happen as a result of lack of coordination between the brain and the breathings muscles.  This could result in either the brain becoming incapacitated to send out the relevant signals or the breathing muscles becoming incapable of obeying those breathing commands because of obstructions in the upper respiratory tract.

The types of sleep apnea 

There are essentially two main types of sleep apnea: obstructive and central.  Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type affecting nearly 50% of diagnosed patients. It happens when the flow of air either stops or slows down because the air passage is either blocked, narrowed or has become floppy.

Central sleep apnea happens when the brain no longer is able to send breathing signals. Though this type can affect anyone, those who have certain underlying medical conditions are more prone.

Mixed or complex sleep apnea is the third variety, which is a combination of both.

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