Sleep Apnea Home > Types of Sleep Apnea

There are three different types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea, and mixed sleep apnea. These types differ in their causes and potential treatments. In all the types of sleep apnea, some part of the respiratory system narrows, impairing the amount of oxygen a person takes into his or her lungs.

An Introduction to the Types of Sleep Apnea

In all cases of sleep apnea, some part of the respiratory system narrows, decreasing the amount of oxygen a person takes into his or her lungs. Lowered blood oxygen levels then trigger the brain to prompt the person to breathe again. The sleeper gasps, jump-starting the breathing process until the next halt in breathing occurs. Doctors distinguish three different types of sleep apnea:
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Central sleep apnea
  • Mixed sleep apnea.
Types of Sleep Apnea: Obstructive Sleep Apnea
This is the most common and severe form of sleep apnea. A typical person with this form of sleep apnea is an overweight male between 35 and 50 years old who usually has a small jaw, a small opening to the airway at the back of the throat, and a large tongue or tonsils. During sleep, the muscles of the soft palate, the muscles at the base of the tongue, and the uvula (the tissue that hangs from the middle of the back of the mouth) relax and sag, blocking the airway, which then collapses.
As breathing stops, the diaphragm and chest muscles strain until the block is literally uncorked, and a noisy gasp -- the snore -- is made. When breathing stops, blood oxygen levels fall, forcing the heart to work harder. As a result, blood pressure rises, and the heartbeat may even become irregular.
Obstructive sleep apnea is made worse by drinking alcohol or taking tranquilizers, antihistamines, or sleeping pills.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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