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Sleep apnoea

Sleep apnoea is a relatively common but serious sleep disorder in which a person repeatedly stops breathing for periods of time while they are asleep.

In middle age, sleep apnoea affects around 4% of men and 2% of women.

There are two types of sleep apnoea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnoea(OSA): By far the more common of the two forms of sleep apnoea, it is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.
  • Central sleep apnoea: Unlike OSA, the airway is not blocked but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe due to instability in the respiratory control centre.

Am I at risk of sleep apnoea?

Sleep apnoea can affect anyone at any age, even children. However risk factors for sleep apnoea include:

  • Being male
  • Being overweight
  • Being over 40
  • Having a large neck size (45 cm or 18 inches in a man of average height - 1.7m or 5 ft 8in)
  • Having large tonsils, excessive folds in the inner lining of the mouth
  • Having nasal congestion
  • Menopause
  • Having diabetes
  • Being a smoker
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Having a family history of sleep apnoea

What are the effects of sleep apnoea?

If left untreated, sleep apnoea can result in a growing number of health problems including:

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on May 31, 2013