Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common form of the disorder, occurs when the soft tissues at the back of the throat collapse and block the airway during sleep, according to WebMD. The second form, central sleep apnea, occurs when the brain does not signal the muscles to breathe.
Without treatment, the person sometimes stops breathing hundreds of times each night, preventing the brain and other tissues in the body from getting enough oxygen, reports WebMD. Untreated sleep apnea increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and other serious health conditions. It also increases the risk of motor vehicle accidents and underperformance in school.
Doctors use tests, either from a sleep lab or at home, to diagnose sleep apnea, according to Mayo Clinic. These tests measure heart rate, breathing and blood oxygen levels. People with sleep apnea show a drop in blood oxygen levels.
Options for treating sleep apnea include lifestyle changes, continuous positive airway pressure therapy and surgery, reports Mayo Clinic. Mild obstructive sleep apnea sometimes responds to losing weight or quitting smoking. CPAP therapy requires the use of a device that pumps air through the nose to keep the airway open. Surgeries for sleep apnea remove excess tissue or reposition the jaw to increase the airway opening.