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Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

A sleep disorder that is marked by pauses in breathing of 10 seconds or more during sleep, and causes unrestful sleep. Symptoms include loud or abnormal snoring, daytime sleepiness, irritability, and depression.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Cancer Institute)

About Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

What is sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea (pronounced AP-nee-ah), also called OSA, is a chronic (ongoing) disorder. People with OSA stop or "pause" their breathing or have shallow breathing when they sleep.

Almost everyone has brief times when they stop breathing while they sleep. People with OSA:

  • Pause their breathing or flow of air (called "hypoapnea") more often than normal.
  • May start breathing again with a loud snort or choking sound.
  • Have breathing pauses five or more times an hour; sometimes as often as once or twice each minute.

OSA can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on:

  • How many times a person pauses their breathing or has lower airflow per hour.
  • How low a person's oxygen level in their blood drops during those times.
  • The amount of sleepiness a person feels during the day...

Read more about Obstructive Sleep Apnea

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

CPAP Treatment for Adults with Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Review of the Clinical and Cost-Effectiveness and Guidelines [Internet]

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of partial (hypopnea) or complete (apnea) upper airway obstruction during sleep despite ongoing respiratory efforts, resulting in disruption of sleep (arousal). OSA affects 9% of middle-aged men and 3% of women in North America. If left untreated, OSA can lead to fatigue, somnolence, headaches, cardiovascular disease, decreased quality of life, and increased risk of motor vehicle accidents.

Pre-Operative Screening and Post-Operative Monitoring of Adults with Obstructive Sleep Apnea: A Review of Clinical Effectiveness and Guidelines [Internet]

This report will review the evidence of clinical effectiveness of tools used to screen the pre-surgical adult patients for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and identify guidelines that address post-surgical monitoring of patients with OSA.

Lifestyle modification strategies for managing obstructive sleep apnoea

Obstructive sleep apnoea happens when breathing is either stopped or reduced during sleep because of a narrowing or blockage of the upper airway (passage to the lungs). It causes loud snoring and occasional apnoea (stopping breathing). It can lead to daytime sleepiness and may cause, hypertension, stroke and road accidents. Lifestyle modification, especially weight loss, sleep hygiene and exercise, are often recommended. These could help by relieving pressure on the upper airway, and increasing muscle tone in the airway. However, the review found no trials to assess the effects of these strategies, and more research is needed.

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Summaries for consumers

Obstructive sleep apnea: How to deal with common problems in CPAP breathing therapy

CPAP therapy can improve breathing at night and considerably relieve symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. However, wearing a mask at night takes some getting used to and may require support.CPAP stands for “continuous positive airway pressure”. In this form of treatment, people with obstructive sleep apnea wear a mask while they sleep that only covers their nose. There are also masks, however, that cover the mouth as well as the nose. A tube leading from the machine to the mask blows mildly compressed air into the airways. This incoming air keeps the airways open and prevents breathing pauses from happening.Therapy with the mask takes some getting used to. Many people get used to the CPAP machine after just one or two nights, while others have more problems and stop therapy. This text gives some practical tips on how to deal with typical problems.

Obstructive sleep apnea: Can specific support improve the use of CPAP therapy?

If psychological and practical support is started early and continued long-term, it can help lower the number of people who discontinue their CPAP therapy and mean that people use the machines longer at night. More research is needed on the effect of intensive support on symptoms and possible complications.

Obstructive sleep apnea: Overview

"I suppose I'm getting older!" – people who feel tired or "beat" are often quick to assume that it is because they are getting older. But an illness such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) could also be the cause. It can however often take a long time until it is properly diagnosed.

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More about Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Photo of an adult

Also called: Obstructive sleep apnoea, Obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome, Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome

Other terms to know:
Chronic, Sleep

Keep up with systematic reviews on Obstructive Sleep Apnea:


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