Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition causing people to stop breathing repeatedly at night while asleep because of the relaxation of the throat muscle. Approximately 18 million people across the United States suffer from this condition, 80 percent of whom are not diagnosed.

If left untreated, this disease can significantly increase the risk of developing a series of other conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack or stroke.

Sleep Apnea, A National Problem

The condition is quite famous and has made headlines quite often, due to the fact that a large number of industrial or transportation accident in the past half a century has been connected to either sleep deprivation or OSA. According to the estimates of researchers from the University of California, San Diego, approximately 800,000 drivers were involved in collisions that can be traced back to OSA in 2000.

At the same time, the National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research estimates that approximately 40,000 deaths occurred because of cardiovascular problems caused by sleep apnea each year.

There are various ways that OSA can affect people's health, and high blood pressure is one of them. Sleep apnea can worsen blood pressure in people whose levels are already too high, as waking up multiple times during the night poses additional stress on the body. The oxygen levels in the blood drop when breathing is not done properly, which can also worsen the issue.

Heart disease is another danger for people who suffer from OSA, related to the stress of waking up multiple times or low oxygen in the bloodstream, which can lead to strokes and atrial fibrillation.

There is no research to show that OSA causes type 2 diabetes; however, of the total number of people who suffer from this disease, 80 percent are estimated to also have OSA. Additionally, the weight gain can be another contributing factor of developing OSA, because of the extra stress on the body.

Daytime fatigue is another complication of sleep apnea, because of the body's impossibility to properly rest during the night's sleep. Among the common symptoms, people can feel easily distracted or hard to focus, or they can find themselves falling asleep while doing non-physical activities, such as reading or watching TV. Irritability is another sign of this condition.

Sleep Disorders, An Essential Direction Of Scientific Research

"More than one-quarter of the U.S. population report occasionally not getting enough sleep, while nearly 10% experience chronic insomnia. However, new methods for assessing and treating sleep disorders bring hope to the millions suffering from insufficient sleep. Getting sufficient sleep is not a luxury-it is a necessity-and should be thought of as a "vital sign" of good health," notes the CDC website.

A recent research, published Jan. 23, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has shown that unbalanced signaling of two molecules responsible for regulating breathing can lead to sleep apnea. The study, carried out on rodents, showed that injecting a substance which reduces the production of one of these two signals can prevent OSA. The research could help in the elaboration of treatment for a wide series of sleep disorders.

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