Sleep apnea syndrome: symptoms, types, causes and treatment

Sleep-related disorders can significantly interfere with a person’s daily life, producing symptoms such as daytime sleepiness, excessive fatigue, and restless sleep.

In this article we will know sleep apnea syndrome, a disorder that affects breathing while we sleep. We will see its types, symptoms, possible causes and treatments.

    Sleep apnea syndrome: what is it?

    Apnea is an episode of interrupted breathing. So, sleep apnea syndrome is a disease of breathing and sleeping, which results from the repeated collapse of the upper respiratory tract. The result it produces are a series of pauses in breathing during sleep.

    Sleep apnea can occur at all ages, although men suffer from it most often. Depending on the type of syndrome, it occurs more in cases of overweight (in obstructive sleep apnea syndrome and central alveolar hypoventilation syndrome) and in the elderly (in central apnea syndrome).

    Diagnosing and treating sleep apnea syndrome is essential for achieving a more restful night’s sleep, staying awake during the day, and improving the patient’s quality of life.


      Before talking about the different forms of sleep apnea syndrome, we will define three key concepts for understanding the differences between types of syndromes:

      • Apnea: These are episodes of interrupted breathing.
      • Hypoapnea: This is abnormally slow or shallow breathing.
      • Hypoventilation: Abnormal levels of O2 (oxygen) and CO2 (carbon dioxide).

      Thus, the three types of sleep disorders related to sleep (and collected by the ICD-10 and the DSM) are:

      1. Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome

      Apnea or hypoapnea appears to upper airway obstruction.

      2. Central apnea syndrome

      Apnea or hypoapnea occurs without airway obstruction.

      3. Central alveolar hypoventilation syndrome

      Hi hypoventilation without apnea or hypoapnea.


      The most common symptoms of sleep apnea syndrome son:

      • Daytime sleepiness.
      • Headache in the morning.
      • Loud or loud snoring.
      • Gasping while sleeping.
      • Difficulty staying alert.
      • Depression.

      Also, often the roommate (even someone sleeping close to the person) may be the first person to notice the problem, hearing loud snoring and noticing the person’s ‘difficulty’ breathing while sleeping, Added to temporal spaces where breathing is lacking.

      On the other hand, family members, as well as colleagues or coworkers, may observe that the person is tired during the day (Daytime sleepiness), or having difficulty staying alert or awake. All of these signs can be symptoms of sleep apnea syndrome and should not be overlooked when seeing a doctor.

      the causes

      The most common cause of sleep apnea syndrome is partial or total obstruction of air flow, caused by relaxation of the muscles around the throat and tongue.

      Sleep apnea syndrome can be life threatening when combined with irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke; in other words, it can even lead to death.

      Most of the time, it is linked to obesity and aging (the latter in some cases).


      There are several types of treatment for sleep apnea syndrome:

      1. Behavioral approaches

      Such approaches they may be effective for people with mild or moderate sleep apnea, And would include the following guidelines:

      • Losing weight can help improve breathing and sometimes reduce the incidence of pauses in breathing.
      • Exercise helps you lose weight and improve the functioning of your lungs.
      • Avoid alcohol, nicotine, sleeping pills, and antihistamines.
      • Sleeping on your side, not your back, relieves pressure on the airways. Pillows or other means can also be used.

      2. Physical devices

      Physical devices can also be effective and for use individually or in combination with the above:

      2.1. Continuous positive respiratory nasal pressure (CPAP)

      Sometimes it can be very effective to use this mask sealed on the nose and mouth, or just on the nose. How it works? The mask blows air into the upper respiratory tract so that it does not collapse while the patient is sleeping.

      2.2. Dental or oral artifacts

      These can be used to create an unobstructed airway and may be prescribed for patients with mild to moderate sleep apnea.

      3. Other treatments

      Other treatments that may be effective for sleep apnea syndrome are:

      3.1. surgical interventions

      They can be taken into account continuously expand the respiratory tracts; however, they are not always effective.

      3.2. pharmacological treatments

      Really, these don’t exist today. However, although oxygen can produce improvements, by itself it is not considered to be an effective treatment.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Amic, I. (2012). Manual of Health Psychology. Madrid: Pyramid.
      • Pérez, M .; Fernandez, JR; Fernández, C. and Amic, I. (2010). Guide to Effective Psychological Treatments II: Health Psychology. Madrid: Pyramid.
      • National Sleep Foundation. (2018). Sleep Apnea.

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