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Sleep Apnea: Types, Symptoms and Possible Solutions

It’s estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, and up to 80% of moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea causes go undiagnosed. When left untreated, sleep apnea can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, stroke and other heart problems.


Signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include: abnormal breathing patterns during sleep, abrupt awakenings with shortness of breath, chest pain at night, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, mood changes, morning headaches and snoring.

The American Sleep Apnea Association classifies sleep apnea in three categories:

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when your tongue collapses against your soft palate, and your soft palate and uvula fall against the back of your throat, blocking your airway while you sleep. The frequent collapse of your airway during sleep makes it difficult to breathe for periods lasting as long as 10 seconds. Breathing usually resumes with a gasp, jerk or snort, which disturbs sleep for the OSA sufferer and his or her sleep partner. OSA can also reduce the flow of oxygen to vital organs and cause irregular heart rhythms.

Central sleep apnea (CSA) is more of a mechanical problem characterized by a blocked airway and your brain's failure to signal your muscles to breathe. Specifically, your diaphragm and chest wall do not receive the proper signals from your brain to pull air in and regulate your breathing. CSA may occur due to conditions such as heart failure and stroke, as well as sleeping at a high altitude.

Complex sleep apnea is a combination of the earlier two conditions, resulting in your brain rousing you during each apneic event, usually only partially, to trigger you to resume breathing.

If you suspect you may be suffering from sleep apnea, seek the help of a qualified sleep specialist. Ask your general practitioner for a recommendation, but don't be afraid to look beyond the conventional treatments. It's worth doing your homework, as some sleep doctors offer solutions that treat only your secondary issues. You want to uncover and treat the root problem(s). Potential treatment options include:

Buteyko Breathing Method: Named after the Russian doctor who developed it, the Buteyko technique can be used to reverse health problems caused by improper breathing, including sleep apnea.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP): CPAP is a special type of sleeping mask prescribed for severe sleep apnea that mechanically restores your breathing by using air pressure to open your airway.

Oral appliance: If your mild to moderate sleep apnea is related to jaw or tongue issues, specially trained dentists can design a custom oral appliance, similar to a mouth guard, that you can wear while sleeping to facilitate proper breathing.

Weight loss: If you are obese, you can dramatically improve the effects of sleep apnea by losing weight, which will reduce pressure on your abdomen and chest, thereby allowing your breathing muscles to function more normally.