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Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep – sometimes up to hundreds of times a night. The most common type, obstructive sleep apnea, is caused by the blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.
Individuals with untreated sleep apnea are at an increased risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, irregular heartbeats, stroke and motor vehicle accidents due to sleepiness. And their risk for sleep apnea increases as they age.
You are at risk for sleep apnea if you:
- are a heavy smoker. People who smoke more than two packs per day are 40 times more likely to develop sleep apnea than nonsmokers.
- are overweight.
- have a large neck circumference.
- have a medical condition, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or esophageal reflux.
- have chronic respiratory conditions, such as asthma, allergies, chronic bronchitis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- are over age 65.