All About Sleep Apnea: Causes & Symptoms
Do you constantly feel restless, fatigued, and irritable? Is your partner fed up of your persistent loud snoring? If you are suffering from these symptoms, you may have a common disorder called sleep apnea. To discover more about the causes and symptoms of sleep apnea, keep reading!
Recognized as one of the most common sleep disorders in the world, sleep apnea affects a large prevalence of men, women, and children. Sleep apnea is frequently underdiagnosed, where only around 20% of 25 million Americans affected are diagnosed and treated. In the long run, untreated sleep apnea can increase the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as type two diabetes, stroke, heart diseases, and more. However, if treated, sleep apnea will no longer be a danger to your health.
Sleep apnea occurs due to interrupted breathing during sleep, and is characterized by two forms:
Obstructive Sleep Apnea: OSA is the most common form, which occurs due to a blockage of the airway during sleep.
Central Sleep Apnea: CSA occurs due to abnormal neurological controls, which causes interruptions in breathing. It is less common, and is usually present with another underlying medical condition.
Sleep Apnea Causes
As we discovered above, sleep apnea can be caused by a physical obstruction of the airways, or due to poor brain signaling. This causes temporarily interrupted breathing, generally for around 10-20 seconds per time. This interruption can happen 30 times or more in a single hour.
Let’s take a look at what causes sleep apnea in more detail:
#1 Muscular Changes
Sleep apnea could occur due to the relaxation of the muscles around the airways, causing the airway to narrow. This could temporarily prevent the flow of air in and out of the lungs.
#2 Physical Barriers
If there is excess fat or tissue surrounding the airway, the airflow is restricted. The air that squeezes through the obstructed airway is what can cause the loud snoring experienced with OSA.
#3 Brain Controls
As you have discovered above, CSA is caused by abnormal brain signaling, which causes a malfunction in our breathing’s rhythm. CSA usually occurs due to an underlying condition, such as strokes, heart failure, or a neurological disorder.
Although these are the primary causes of sleep apnea, there are a variety of factors that can increase your risk or severity of the disorder:
Risk factors for developing sleep apnea include:
- Being overweight/obese
- Sleeping flat on your back
- Chronic Sinusitis
- Familial history of sleep apnea
Now that we’ve explored the causes in detail, it’s time to take note of the symptoms of sleep apnea.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Although there are common symptoms of sleep apnea can be experienced by both men and women, there are also some symptomatic differences to take note of.
Sleep Apnea in Men
Sleep apnea is more prevalent amongst men than women. Generally speaking, men often report snoring and gasping for air during sleep as their main symptoms. These are usually the telltale signs of sleep apnea, which is why sleep apnea is commonly diagnosed in the male population.
Sleep Apnea in Women
Symptoms of sleep apnea in women may be less obvious, which is why it is more difficult to diagnose. Women commonly report headaches, moodiness, daytime sleepiness and fatigue as the main symptoms of sleep apnea. Therefore, sleep apnea can be confused with insomnia or other sleep disorders during diagnosis. Hormonal imbalances and menopause may also cause sleep apnea in women. Although the ‘classic’ signs of sleep apnea (snoring and gasping for air), may not be experienced by women, it is important to not ignore sleep apnea as a possible diagnosis for women with sleep problems.
If you think you are suffering from any of these symptoms, take control of your health and speak to a physician to determine if you have sleep apnea. Remember, individual symptoms vary, and signs should not be ignored! If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, there are a variety of natural solutions and lifestyle interventions that can treat the condition.
Sleep Apnea Causes and Symptoms
~ Written by Salma Dawood, Nutritionist BSc