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What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a major health problem that affects millions of people worldwide. Approximately 17 million people have OSA in the United States and as many as 20 million people in Europe. Many patients who have sleep apnea have not yet been diagnosed by their physician.

OSA is a condition characterized by frequent obstruction of an individual's airway during sleep. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Loud snoring
  • Gasping for air during sleep
  • Falling asleep while driving
  • Falling asleep during the day
  • Morning headaches
  • Loss of energy
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritability

When a person falls asleep, the muscles that keep the airway open relax. In OSA, this relaxation is enough to result in an obstruction of the airway, and in most cases, is caused by the soft palate and/or tongue. When the airway is obstructed, oxygen levels in the blood begin to drop, causing the patient to wake up or have an arousal from sleep, thus limiting the quality of their sleep. This is one of the reasons people with OSA can be so sleepy during the day.

OSA has been associated with serious conditions such as hypertension, coronary artery disease, heart attacks and stroke. The all-cause risk of death for OSA sufferers is nearly 4 times that for people without OSA.1 About one half of patients who have hypertension have obstructive sleep apnea, and about one half of patients who have obstructive sleep apnea have hypertension.2

One of the most notable effects of OSA is excessive sleepiness during the day. In 2004, US researchers reported that 1,400 traffic fatalities each year are due to drivers suffering from sleep apnea.3


  1. Young T, et.al. Sleep disordered breathing and mortality: eighteen-year follow-up of the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study. SLEEP, 2008.
  2. Silverberg, D et al. Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea Improves Essential Hypertension and Quality of Life. American Family Physician 2002;65:229-36
  3. ABC News, 10 May 2004