Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common disorder with prevalence estimates of 5-15% of the general population. To emphasize this point, Asthma, a much more widely recognized disorder, has a prevalence of 3-4% of the population. OSA is a disorder manifested by snoring, apneas (absence of breathing) and hypopneas (shallow breathing) which occur during sleep and lead to disruptions. It is caused by an obstruction of the upper airway by excessive tissues in the nose and / or the throat. It is more common in men compared with women. However, after menopause, the incidence increases dramatically in women. It is more common with obesity, but one does not have to be overweight to have OSA. It is more common in the elderly, but may also be seen in children.
Snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) are the 2 most common reasons patients seek medical attention for OSA. EDS leads to “drowsy driving” and is a leading cause of motor vehicle accidents. In addition, EDS contributes to poor job performance, cognitive difficulties, irritability and depression. Complications of untreated OSA include hypertension, heart attacks, stroke, TIAs, CHF, cardiac rhythm disturbances, diabetes and sudden death. Because OSA is a modifiable risk factor, screening for OSA should be considered for all patients with the above disorders and / or symptoms.