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Article reviewed and approved by licensed medical personnel - obstructive sleep apnea , symptoms of sleep apneaObstructive Sleep Apnea, Another Silent Killer?  Know the Symptoms

High blood pressure is commonly referred to as the silent killer. Most people are not aware that obstructive sleep apnea is also a silent killer. In fact, it is one of the least diagnosed causes of stroke and heart attack.

What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea ("OSA") is known as a condition in which a person repeatedly stops breathing. This cessation of breathing is due to the airway collapsing, thus preventing air from entering the lungs. The lack of air causes disruption to the sleep pattern, resulting in fatigue and excessive sleepiness during the day.

What Causes Sleep Apnea? 

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One cause of OSA is extra tissue in the back of the throat. This could be something like tonsils that are unusually large. It can also be cause by a decrease in the overall tone of the muscles that are holding open the airway. Another common one is the tongue falling to the back of the throat and occluding (covering) the airway. A common cause of sleep apnea in adults is obesity.  This is due to the presence of excess tissue that can block the airway in certain sleeping positions.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Symptoms to Look For

Generally, sleep apnea is detected by a spouse or parent because the person with obstructive sleep apnea is unaware what is happening. 

Loud snoring that is reported by your bed mate can be a symptom. The snoring is so bad that one person will be forced to sleep on the couch or in another room. Periods of no breathing at all, as observed by others, is called "apnea," which means lack of breathing. 

An abnormal sleep pattern might be loud snoring, followed by silence when the breathing stops.  The silence is broken with a loud choke or gasp when the sleeper partially awakens, clearing the air passage.  This can continue throughout the night.

The patient himself may be aware of obstructive sleep apnea symptoms that manifest during the day.  Examples include exhaustion, fatigue and irritability due to lack of sleep.  The most extreme example is the driver who falls asleep at the wheel because of OSA.  The patient's memory and attention span may be affected due to lack of proper sleep.

Waking up with headaches on a daily basis could also be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea.

What To Do If You Suspect that You Have a Sleep Disorder

Contact your physician immediately if you think that you or a loved one has a sleep disorder.  If left undiagnosed and untreated, obstructive sleep apnea could lead to stroke, heart attack, heart disease and accidents.

Your doctor will likely order a sleep study performed at a sleep lab in order to diagnose OSA.   This test is done by a qualified technician, often a Respiratory Therapist. An MD is usually the head of the sleep lab and responsible for interpretation of the results of the test.

If your doctor determines that you suffer from a sleep disorder, then he or she will order treatment for this disorder. A common treatment is CPAP.  Other treatments involve surgery or medications.


Many obstructive sleep apnea cases continue to go untreated because of lack of awareness.  This is a serious medical condition, so if you suspect that you or a loved one have it, be sure to have it checked straight away.