What Is Apnea?

By jolene
Reviewed: Dr. Gromatzky
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Apnea occurs when there is a temporary cessation of breathing. When there is apnea, the muscles of inhalation are not moving, causing the lung volume to remain unchanged. Depending on the patency of the airways, there may or may not be any flow of gas between the environment and lungs.

Apnea can be drug induced, mechanically induced, due to trauma, voluntarily achieved (via breath-holding), or as a complication because of a neurological disease. When it lasts for more than one minute, apnea can result in severe lack of oxygen in the body. Unless ventilation is restored, in as little as three minutes, permanent brain damage can occur. Several more minutes and death may occur. Sleep apnea can be generally categorized into obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea, and mixed apnea.

1. Mechanism

Besides occurring voluntarily, or by drug use, mechanical reasons (choking or strangulation), trauma, heightened emotion, breath holding spells (emotional stress, frustration, other psychological issues), and neurological disease, it can also occur during sleep. This is known as sleep apnea. For patients who suffer from sleep apnea, the episodes of apnea can occur more than a hundred times every hour during sleep.

In obstructive sleep apnea, the muscles in the back of the throat relax causing the narrowing of the airway. These muscles are responsible to support the uvula, soft palate, tongue, and tonsils. As it relaxes, the tissues are not supported. This can result in gasping, snorting, or choking. In central sleep apnea, it occurs when the brain is unable or fails to send signals to the breathing muscles.


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