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Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a disorder that afflicts more than 12 million people in the United States. It takes its name from the Greek word apnea, which means "without breath." People with obstructive sleep apnea literally stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep due to closure of their airway. This closure often lasts for a minute or longer and may occur hundreds of times during a single night.

Partial closure of the airway, called hypopnea, may also occur, along with loud, disruptive snoring. These breathing events can cause repeated awakenings that last for just a few seconds, but often lead to a miserable night of non-restorative sleep.

Because the airway is narrowed or closed, oxygen cannot get into the lungs and carbon dioxide cannot get out. This combination puts a great strain on the cardiovascular system and may contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes. Obstructive sleep apnea can lead to daytime sleepiness making it difficult to work, drive or perform daily activities without nodding off.

Obstructive sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of stroke in middle-aged and older adults, especially men, according to new results from a landmark study supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health. Overall, sleep apnea more than doubles the risk of stroke in men.


  • Awakening not rested in the morning
  • Falling asleep at inappropriate times
  • Constant daytime sleepiness
  • Loud, disruptive snoring
  • Morning headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Limited attention and concentration
  • Not remembering things during the day, memory loss
  • Poor judgment
  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Personality changes (especially irritability)
  • Hyperactive behavior, especially in children
  • Automatic behavior (performing routine actions)
  • Frequent sore throats
  • Difficult to control high blood pressure
  • Leg swelling (if severe)
  • Uncontrollable weight gain
  • Frequent night sweats
  • Depression
  • Loss of sexual desire

If untreated, OSA often gets worse, and may contribute to strokes, heart attacks, coronary artery disease, or other cardiovascular diseases.