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What Is Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that can detrimentally affect someone’s overall health and well-being. People with untreated sleep apnea routinely stop breathing throughout the night – sometimes as many as hundreds of times within one night’s sleep, resulting in the brain getting decreased oxygen.

The VA recognizes three different types of sleep apnea, as follows:

1. Obstructive sleep apnea: This is the most common form of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airway becomes blocked during sleep – usually because the soft tissue at the back of the throat collapses during sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, obstructive sleep apnea affects around 18 million Americans.

2. Central sleep apnea: With this kind of sleep apnea, the airway isn’t necessarily blocked during sleep, but the brain doesn’t trigger the muscles to breathe appropriately. This usually ties back to some type of instability in the respiratory control center of the brain.

3. Mixed sleep apnea – A combination of the two types of sleep apnea listed above. While some view sleep apnea as more of a nuisance than anything else, when left untreated it can result in some serious long-term health effects. For example, excessive daytime sleepiness can lead to difficulty concentrating, along with falling asleep at work, which can make completing work duties extremely challenging. People who suffer from sleep apnea are at a much higher risk of being involved in workplace accidents and motor vehicle collisions.

The sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that come from prolonged periods of not breathing during the night easily can lead to issues with high blood pressure and heart issues. These repetitive drops strain the whole cardiovascular system, putting you at a higher risk of stroke, heart attack, and abnormal heartbeats.

Those with untreated sleep problems associated with sleep apnea also show a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders, plus a higher chance of developing liver problems such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. The livers of those with sleep apnea are also more likely to exhibit significant scarring. Dealing with sleep apnea – particularly obstructive sleep apnea – can increase your risk of complications after surgery and with some medications, especially those related to anesthesia.

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