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Health Tip: What's Sleep Apnea?

Serious disorder causes temporary lapses in breathing

(HealthDay News) -- Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes a person to stop breathing while asleep, sometimes for up to 30 seconds at a time. The condition typically causes a person to wake up many times during the night when breathing stops, resulting in lack of sleep.

Most people suffer from a type called obstructive sleep apnea, in which something in the throat blocks the airway and interrupts breathing. The American Academy of Family Physicians says most often the blockage is caused by the tonsils, tongue or uvula at the back of the throat. A less common type is called central sleep apnea, which is caused by an abnormality in the central nervous system that leads to inconsistent breathing.

Symptoms of sleep apnea may include heavy snoring, fatigue, and even dangerous instances of falling asleep during the day -- such as while driving.

Sleep apnea can be treated with lifestyle changes, including avoiding alcohol and smoking, and losing weight. Or special devices can be prescribed to help make breathing easier during sleep.

Consumer News