What Causes Sleep Apnea?


Quick Answer

According to Mayo Clinic, there are two types of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when muscles in the throat relax, narrowing or closing the airway. When a physical condition, such as heart failure or stroke, causes the brain to cease sending impulses to your breathing muscles, central sleep apnea occurs.

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What Causes Sleep Apnea?
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Full Answer

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea and WebMd estimates that more than 12 million Americans suffer from the condition. Obstructive sleep apnea is more common in men and those over 40. Obesity is a major risk factor, and over half of those diagnosed with the condition are overweight. Smoking, high blood-pressure and enlarged tonsils are also risk factors.

Central sleep apnea is also more common in men and older individuals, according to Mayo Clinic. Those with congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation have a higher risk for this type of apnea, as do those who have had a stroke or a brain tumor.

According to Mayo Clinic, a diagnosis of sleep apnea is usually made by monitoring breathing, oxygen levels and heart rate during sleep. Portable monitoring equipment used in home testing is convenient but doesn't detect all cases of apnea. A full sleep study, called a polysomnography, is more accurate.

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