Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which one stops breathing for ten seconds or more repeatedly throughout the night. This causes oxygen levels in the blood to go down and usually makes the sleep awake many times over the course of the night. The disorder has multiple causes.
The primary cause and strongest risk factor of sleep apnea for adults is obesity. Over half of the people diagnosed with sleep apnea are overweight or obese. Obesity is linked to soft tissue in the throat and mouth. This soft tissue can block the airway when the muscles of the tongue and throat become relaxed during sleep.
Weight loss will greatly improve the symptoms of sleep apnea. However, people who are chronically tired and have little to no energy have difficulty exercising and losing weight. Bariatric surgery has a success rate of eighty-five percent in improving the symptoms of sleep apnea for patients who are morbidly obese.
Other Common Risk Factors
A variety of other anatomical features are linked to sleep apnea. Several of these are hereditary, such as having a round head, a thick neck or a narrow throat. Other factors that can lead to this disorder include allergies, hypothyroidism, abnormal growth resulting from the production of too much growth hormone (a condition known as acromegaly), and other medical conditions that congest the upper airways.
Sleep apnea in adults is also linked to excessive alcohol consumption, and the use of cigarettes and sedatives.
Certain groups of people are at a higher risk of sleep apnea than others. Take note, however, that this condition is frequently undiagnosed and untreated.
While childhood obesity can contribute to sleep apnea in children, it isn’t connected with the disorder as often as adult obesity. Enlarged adenoids or tonsils and certain oral abnormalities (like a larger overbite) often lead to sleep apnea in children.
Current estimates state that sleep apnea affects between four and nine percent of middle-aged adults and upward of ten of people over sixty-five. As you age, your brain’s ability to stiffen the throat muscles in the upper airway during sleep is reduced. This raises the chances of your airway narrowing or collapsing.
Men develop sleep apnea up to four times more often than women, but women are more likely to get sleep apnea when they become pregnant or when they enter menopause. The gender gap tends to narrow in older adults once women enter menopause.
Progesterone and estrogen can potentially protect from sleep apnea, given that women who undergo hormone replacement therapy after menopause develop sleep apnea considerably less often. However, because hormone replacement therapy can cause adverse health conditions, it is not used as therapy for this sleep disorder.
Between twenty-five to forty percent of people who have sleep apnea have a family member with the disorder, denoting a trend of anatomical problems passed down through the family history.
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