Sleep Apnea: Everything You Need to Know About its Types

One of the symptoms of sleep apnea is obstructed breathing. Central sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea are the three subtypes of this disorder. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most prevalent form.

Several studies place the prevalence of OSA anywhere from 4% to 50%. The number of people with sleep apnea in a given study depends on many things, such as the definition used by the researchers, the participants' age, gender, and weight, and whether or not they have any other health problems. Among men, the prevalence was 22% on average across 11 studies from 2015, while among women, it was 17%.

Individuals suffering from sleep disturbances would familiarize themselves with the various forms of this condition to determine the root of their problems and receive appropriate treatment.

The risk of developing conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke is increased by chronic inflammation, which has been linked to sleep apnea.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) affects over 25 million Americans. It develops when the passage between the mouth and the throat becomes blocked. Breathing can become difficult or impossible, for instance, if the tongue presses against the soft palate while asleep, causing the soft palate and uvula to collapse against the throat.

Because of the tongue's and soft palate's vibrations caused by OSA, snoring can occur. A person may wake up feeling like they are suffocating. A person with OSA has normally functioning lungs and continues to make breathing efforts even though not enough air is entering the body through the nose and mouth.

Males, those carrying extra weight, expecting mothers, and people who sleep on their backs are at increased risk for developing OSA as they age. Among the symptoms that may present themselves are:

  • Waking up from sleep or waking up feeling extremely fatigued
  • Start to wake up with a racing heart and a sense of impending doom 
  • Sleep-related snoring and gasping for air
  • Continuous head pain
  • The discomfort of waking up thirsty
  • Struggling to focus on tasks at hand due to mental fogginess

Central Sleep Apnea

A blockage in the upper airway causes obstructive sleep apnea, but central sleep apnea makes breathing hard at night. Instead, it's neurological.

In central sleep apnea, the body doesn't try to breathe, which is different from OSA, so there is no snoring. Instead, breathing stops altogether because the brain and nervous system aren't consistently sending a signal to do so.

Although some people may experience no symptoms at all, others might:

  • Insomnia
  • Feeling panicked or short of breath when you wake up
  • Sleepiness or inability to focus during the day

Among the possible causes are:

  • Medicine, most notably tranquilizers like opiates High altitude sleeping
  • Cardiac failure shock

But sometimes, doctors cannot determine what's causing central sleep apnea.

Cheyne-Stokes breathing is a pattern of breathing that happens when you have central sleep apnea. It consists of times when you breathe too much and times when you don't breathe at all. Central sleep apnea is a possible complication of congestive heart failure.

Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome

The presence of one type of sleep apnea does not rule out the possibility of another form. A subset of sleep apnea, known as complex sleep apnea syndrome, combines the symptoms of central sleep apnea and OSA from a trusted source. An initial sleep study may be enough to rule out complex sleep apnea syndrome. On the other hand, it may be clear when a CPAP machine or other common treatments for OSA don't help with the apnea.

Like obstructive sleep apnea, these signs and symptoms include:

  • Occasional, brief awakenings
  • Lethargy during the day
  • Confusion upon awakening
  • Migraines or a lack of saliva can cause discomfort.
  • Inability to sleep or sleeplessness

According to a retrospective study conducted in 2006, out of 223 people with sleep apnea symptoms, only 0.4% were found to have central sleep apnea and 15% to have complex sleep apnea syndrome.

Final Thoughts

Sleep apnea, which puts people at risk for a wide range of serious diseases, can hurt the quality of life.

The proper treatment can improve sleep quality and decrease the likelihood of developing long-term health issues.

A doctor might suggest a sleep study for someone who is too tired during the day or wakes up often at night.

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