Sleep Apnea Definition: Obstructive, Central and Mixed
Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD
: it is a disorder that
causes a child or adult to stop breathing for several moments (up to a
full minute) when asleep. These breathing
happen several times a night (up to 100 times!) and can
There are three different types, based on the different
causes, i.e. how the
airway is being blocked: Obstructive Apnea, Central
or Complex Apnea (See below for definitions).
Sadly apnea, or
also apnoea, is quite
about 2-4% of all adults, and 1-3% of children would suffer from it.
Worse, it often
goes undiagnosed and untreated
page gives a general
overview and definitions: click through
for specific pages on sleep
apnea in children and babies.
Most people are not aware of their breathing problems at night: they
wake up after the breathing gasp but go straight back to sleep.
However, they do not spend enough time in a deep sleep so they get very poor rest quality
(not to mention that of their partner's or parents' who often wake up
at each breathing gasp too!).
The most obvious side
effects of apnea
are daytime sleepiness and severe
fatigue. But when untreated
, it will also cause high blood
pressure and other cardiovascular diseases. Frequent
headaches, memory and concentration problems, excessive weight gain are
all possible side effects too.
The good thing is that it can be diagnosed
and that effective
do exist. If you often snore (loudly), are
(lightly) overweight, feel very tired during the day, or have been told
you wake up gasping for breath, do check with your doctor!
High risk factors
are: being male, being overweight and being 40+ years
old. However, many kids, youngsters and women of any age have it too.
Sleep Apnea Definition (OSA)
This is the most common one. It is when the
person's airway is
. What happens usually is that the soft
tissue at the back of the throat collapses, obstructing
This closes the airway, until the person wakes up, gasping for breath
and consciously opens the airway again.
This is the most common case and as good as the only type of sleep
apnea in children
Sleep Apnea Definition
In this case, there is no physical blocking of the airway but
a brain signal failure
What happens is that the brain signal necessary to keep the airway
muscles functioning, does not go through correctly.
This is the common type of sleep
apnea in infants
or Complex Sleep Apnea Definition
This is when the person
has a combination of the two causes: there are breathing pauses due to
a physical blocking of the airway and others due to a failed brain
According to a 2006 study
84% of apnea cases are of the Obstructive type, 0,4% are purely
Central. About 15% is the Mixed type.
Sleep Apnea Syndrome: Is It a Unique Clinical Syndrome?
Timothy I. Morgenthaler, MD; Vadim Kagramanov, MD; Viktor Hanak, MD;
Paul A. Decker, MS Sleep 2006;29(9):1203-1209.