Sleep Apnoea, symptoms and causes

Sleep Apnoea, symptoms and causes

Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder with significant health consequences. Although it is well known and successfully treated, it is still under-diagnosed. Many people are unaware that they have difficulty breathing at night and do not consider daytime sleepiness to be a topic to discuss with their doctor.

What is sleep apnea?

There are two types of sleep apnea: the more common obstructive sleep apnea, which is triggered by obstruction of the upper airways, and the less common central apnea, which is characterized by a cerebral shutdown of the airway control. It is the first that will interest us throughout this article.

The sleep apnea syndrome is defined by the existence of more than five respiratory "events" per hour of sleep, resulting in an often unconscious micro arousal for the patient. These respiratory events can be:

  • Apnea (cessation of respiratory flow for 10 seconds or more)
  • Hypopnea (decrease in the respiratory flow of at least 30%)
  • A breathing effort


The severity of the syndrome is determined by the type of event, its number and duration.

Who does it affect?

A study by the scientific journal The Lancet in 2016 estimates that 49% of men and 23% of women between the ages of 40 and 85 suffer from sleep apnea. In France, approximately 12 million people aged 30 to 69 years old suffer from moderate to severe sleep apnea syndrome.

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What are the causes?

Any health condition that reduces the size of the pharynx at rest or restricts the passage of air through the upper airways is likely to cause sleep apnea. Obesity is, therefore, the most critical risk factor. Other factors are:

  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Some sedatives or tranquilizers
  • Nasal congestion
  • Large tonsils or adenoids
  • Or the morphology of the jaws and upper respiratory tract.

      What are the symptoms?

      The main consequence of sleep apnea is fragmented sleep, that causes multiple symptoms:

      • Severe fatigue during the day
      • Loud, everyday snoring
      • Suffocations or gasps during the night
      • Frequent awakenings and / or insomnia
      • Frequent getting up to go to the toilet (nocturia)
      • Night sweats
      • Nocturnal heartburn
      • Palpitations or a high heart rate

      Sleep apnea causes fragmented sleep, which also has multiple consequences during the day:

      • Headache in the morning
      • Memory problems and difficulty concentrating
      • Lack of patience and irritability
      • Decreased intellectual performance
      • Learning disabilities

          What are the long-term consequences?

          When not properly treated, obstructive sleep apnea syndrome can lead to many health problems: 

          • High blood pressure and heart disease
          • Diabetes
          • Strokes
          • Depression and anxiety
          • Alertness disorders
          • Libido loss
          • Daytime drowsiness leading to accidents (sleepiness while driving is one of the three leading causes of accidents in France)

          What can be done to prevent and treat sleep apnea? 

          Solutions to treat Sleep Apnoea 

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