Learn About Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) | American Lung Association

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Learn About Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a disease that interrupts sleep by stopping and starting your breathing. Those with obstructive sleep apnea have airways that repeatedly collapse when throat muscles relax during sleep, blocking the flow of air. The disease causes snoring and choking or gasping during sleep.

Key Facts

  • Obstructive sleep apnea is a common condition, especially affecting those who are overweight.
  • Risk also increases with age.
  • Because sleep is interrupted, people with obstructive sleep apnea usually are sleepy during the day and sometimes feel irritable, forgetful, unable to concentrate, or less alert.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea may occur along with hypertension, heart disease, and other major medical problems.

What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition where your airways narrow or close during sleep, stopping airflow and causing apneas—short periods when you're not breathing. Apneas often happen repeatedly throughout the night, interrupting your sleep and leaving you tired after you wake up. Often people with obstructive sleep apnea don't know they have the disorder.

How Obstructive Sleep Apnea Affects Your Body

Daytime sleepiness, forgetfulness, and irritability are just some of the ways obstructive sleep apnea may affect your health and wellbeing. People with obstructive sleep apnea often feel like they haven't slept at all, even if they sleep for the recommended seven to nine hours each night. Because they wake up often, people with obstructive sleep apnea don't get high-quality sleep. In addition to being sleepy during the day, not getting enough sleep may make it harder to concentrate, or could make you forgetful, irritable and foggy headed. Kids who have obstructive sleep apnea often become hyperactive instead of sleepy.

Obstructive sleep apnea is associated with developing high blood pressure, stroke, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, cardiac rhythm disturbances, and difficulty controlling blood sugar levels. Because of this, treating obstructive sleep apnea is very important for your health.

How Serious Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common disorder that's becoming even more widespread. In the United States, about 10 to 30 percent of adults may have obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea can cause serious accidents in the workplace or while driving. Motor vehicle accidents are at least twice as likely to happen when people with obstructive sleep apnea are behind the wheel compared with drivers without obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea also is associated with developing heart and vascular disease. If you have untreated obstructive sleep apnea, you're two to three times more likely to have a fatal or nonfatal heart and blood vessel issues, including heart attack and stroke.

    This content was developed in partnership with the CHEST Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians.


    Last updated April 5, 2018.

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