Understanding Sleep Apnea

May 28, 2015 Brigham and Women's Hospital

Sleep apnea is typically treated with continuous positive air pressure (CPAP).

Sleep apnea is a common yet serious condition that occurs when the throat collapses repetitively during sleep. When the throat collapses, oxygen levels in the brain drop, and sleep is interrupted.

Sleep apnea can affect people of all ages, including children. The group of adults who appear to be at greatest risk for sleep apnea are often middle-aged older men and individuals who are overweight. Among women, the rates of sleep apnea increase after menopause.

Over the last 10 years, there has been a tremendous amount of research that has studied the links between sleep apnea and a number of health outcomes. There is compelling data that sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of stroke, heart failure, coronary artery disease, and diabetes.

Sleep apnea is diagnosed by measuring breathing patterns, heart rate, and oxygenation overnight. A sleep study can be performed in a sleep laboratory or at home.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is typically used to treat sleep apnea. CPAP is a procedure in which the patient wears a mask over the nose during sleep. The mask is connected to a device that delivers air to the throat and nose under positive pressure to prevent the throat from collapsing.

In this video, Dr. Susan Redline, Associate Clinical Director of the Sleep Disorders Service at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), discusses the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea and research findings about sleep apnea, including the impact of genetics and  the environment.

Dr. Redline also is leading a new research initiative, called MyApnea.org, that is inviting patients across the U.S. to be part of a national network of patients, health care providers, and researchers who will work together to find new answers to diagnosing and treating sleep apnea.

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