More than 3 million Americans are diagnosed with sleep apnea every year. The most common form of sleep apnea is Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which is responsible for 84% of all apnea diagnoses. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses and closes during sleep.
A 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine put the American sleep apnea population at 20 million people. Common risk factors include being male, overweight, and over the age of forty, but sleep apnea can strike anyone at any age, even children. Because of the lack of awareness on the part of public and health care professionals, the majority remains undiagnosed and therefore untreated, despite the fact that this serious disorder can have significant consequences.
Untreated, sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease, memory problems, weight gain, impotency, and headaches. Moreover, untreated sleep apnea may be responsible for job impairment and motor vehicle crashes.
Fortunately, sleep apnea can be diagnosed and treated.