Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a general covering of most respiratory related sleep disorders. Sleep apnea can be broken down into 3 major kinds: Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea (CSA), and complex sleep apnea. The most prevalent kind is OSA. Estimations vary by data source, but it is commonly accepted that over 50 million people have a chronic sleep disorder and most of those affected have OSA.


The signs and symptoms of OSA are rather overlooked by most people, and even physicians (when was the last time your doctor asked about your sleep?). OSA is when the airway becomes either partially or completely occluded or obstructed. The obstruction can last for seconds to literally minutes. During this time, the patient continues to “try to breath” but they work harder and harder. The physiological results are increased work to breath, decreases in oxygen levels, increases in carbon dioxide, as well as others.

A patient’s oxygen level is normally between 92% and 99%. When a patient is suffering from OSA, they are not breathing air (the airway is obstructed). During this time the patient’s oxygen level can drop into the 80s or 70s or even lower depending on the length of the obstructive apnea. It has been proven that the severe desaturation (lowering of the oxygen level in the blood) can cause severe cardiac and systemic medical disturbances including, but not limited to:

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart attacks

  • Increased risk for strokes

  • Diabetes

  • Metabolic syndromes (chronic inflammation, weight gain, high cholesterol)

  • Heart failure

  • Artery disease


Other features that become obvious to the patient suffering from OSA include:

  • Daytime fatigue

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness

  • Frequent naps

  • Waking with morning headaches

  • Frequent awakenings at night

  • Frequent bathroom trips at night

  • Increase motor vehicle accidents (drowsy driving)

One of the questions we ask patients is “do they snore, stop snoring for a period of time, then gasp, move around a bit, snore then stop snoring again?” Snoring means they are moving air in and out, when they stop snoring, they are having an apnea (not breathing), and when they gasp is when they wake up to breathe again bringing in oxygen and blowing out carbon dioxide. This pattern can happen literally hundreds of times a night. Our patients bed partners will state that’s what they do all night long! That means they are waking up hundreds of times per night.

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea


The first step is actually consulting with a physician about your concerns of the signs and symptoms that were discussed above. If a patient shows these signs and symptoms, screening questionnaires can be used to determine if they possibly suffer from sleep apnea. Some of these screening questionnaires include the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, the fatigue severity scale, a sleep diary, as well as questionnaires that discuss your daily habits of hours in bed, and how you feel during the day.

Sleep apnea is diagnosed during a sleep study (polysomnogram). Most of these polysomnogram’s are done in a sleep center or laboratory to evaluate the quantity and quality of a patient sleep. There are portable home studies available but they are of limited use to evaluate for various sleep disorders.

There are various treatment options available for OSA, it depends on many factors, and you should consult with our staff to see how we can best and you.