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Proc Am Thorac Soc. 2008 Feb 15;5(2):144-53. doi: 10.1513/pats.200707-114MG.

Pathophysiology of adult obstructive sleep apnea.

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Division of Sleep Medicine, Sleep Disorders Program, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and Havard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common disorder characterized by repetitive narrowing or collapse of the pharyngeal airway during sleep. The disorder is associated with major comorbidities including excessive daytime sleepiness and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The underlying pathophysiology is multifactorial and may vary considerably between individuals. Important risk factors include obesity, male sex, and aging. However, the physiological mechanisms underlying these risk factors are not clearly understood. This brief review summarizes the current understanding of OSA pathophysiology in adults and highlights the potential mechanisms underlying the principal risk factors. In addition, some of the pathophysiological characteristics associated with OSA that may modulate disease severity are illustrated. Finally, the potential for novel treatment strategies, based on an improved understanding of the underlying pathophysiology, is also discussed with the ultimate aim of stimulating research ideas in areas where knowledge is lacking.

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