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Doc Talks: 7 Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common chronic disorder characterized by repeated episodes of upper airway obstruction during sleep.  Apnea is defined as the cessation of breathing for at least 10-seconds, and results in low levels of oxygen in the blood and causes brief awakenings throughout the night.  Symptoms of OSA may include loud snoring, disrupted sleep, and excessive daytime sleepiness.  An overnight sleep study is required to diagnose OSA.  The mainstay for treatment of OSA is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).  Complications of untreated OSA may include high blood pressure, heart disease, headaches, motor vehicle accidents, depression, and even death.  Seven causes of obstructive sleep apnea are…

1. Excess Weight

Greater than 50-percent of individuals diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are either overweight or obese.  Body mass index (BMI) is a marker used as an indirect measurement of body fat.  A BMI can be calculated using mass in kilograms (kg) divided by the square of an individual’s height in meters (m).  An individual BMI of 25-29.9 kg/m2 is designated overweight, while a BMI of > 30 kg/m2 is designated obese.

In recent clinical studies, excess weight is the strongest risk factor associated with the development and progression of OSA in adults.  Fat deposits in the tissues surrounding the upper airways cause intermittent obstruction while sleeping.  A 10-percent weight gain may increase the odds of developing moderate to severe OSA by six times, while each unit increase in BMI is associated with a 14-percent increased risk of developing OSA.


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