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Understanding Sleep Apnea

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

OSA is a common, yet often undiagnosed sleep disorder. A recent Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) survey indicated that 22% (5.4 million) of adult Canadians report either being diagnosed with sleep apnea (3%) or are at high risk for OSA (19%)

People who have OSA stop breathing repeatedly during sleep because their airway collapses. 

Airway collapse may be due to such factors as a large tongue, extra tissue in the airway, or decreased muscle tone holding the airway open. As a result, air is prevented from getting into the lungs. 

These pauses in breathing can happen 30 times or more per hour. When healthy sleep is interrupted in this way, the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other serious health conditions may increase.

How do I know if I have OSA?

OSA can occur in men, women and children of all ages and sizes. Most people who have OSA do not realize they suffer from the condition. Often, it is the bed partner who notices the first signs of OSA. If you or someone you know snores regularly and has one or more of the following symptoms, it may be OSA. Check all of the following that apply, and share this list with your doctor.

Key signs and symptoms include:

❑ excessive daytime sleepiness

❑ loud or disruptive snoring

❑ gasping or choking during sleep

Other common symptoms include:

❑ grogginess and morning headaches

❑ frequent urination at night

❑ depression and irritability

OSA is more common in people who:

❑ are obese

❑ have a large neck or crowding of the upper airway

What happens if I have OSA and I don’t treat it properly?

People who do not seek diagnosis and treatment for OSA may increase their risk for:

• high blood pressure

• irregular heart rhythms or heart disease

• heart attack

• stroke

• driving or work-related accidents

How is OSA diagnosed?

• discuss sleep complaints and symptoms with your doctor

• if a sleep disorder is suspected, your doctor will refer you to a sleep specialist for evaluation

• an overnight diagnostic sleep study, known as a polysomnogram, or PSG, is used to determine the type and severity of the sleep disorder, as well as appropriate treatment

What is the treatment for OSA?

•  Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is the treatment of choice for OSA

• CPAP therapy provides a flow of air pressure through your nose using a mask

• the air pressure prevents airway collapse, allowing you to breathe freely while you sleep

• CPAP therapy is noninvasive and can alleviate the symptoms of OSA when used as prescribed

Alternative treatments

• Bi-level PAP may be prescribed for severe cases of OSA

• surgery

• body position modification

• oral appliances