Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious condition in which breathing stops and starts repeatedly while sleeping, causing poor sleep and other problems. People who snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night of rest may have sleep apnea. There are several types of sleep apnea. The most common form is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which occurs when the throat muscles relax and block the upper airway during sleep, reducing or stopping airflow. This forces the person to wake up enough to regain muscle control in the throat and reopen the airway. Other types include central sleep apnea, which happens when the brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. Complex sleep apnea syndrome is the term used for people who have both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Overnight sleep studies are used to diagnose sleep apnea. During these studies, medical professionals use equipment that records the number of times breathing stops or slows down and the number of central sleep apnea events that occur each hour. Sleep studies also measure oxygen levels in the blood during these events. Undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea can lead to serious problems such as heart attack, glaucoma, diabetes, cancer, behavioral disorders, and negative mental changes that affect learning, memory, perception, and problem-solving.

With proper diagnosis and treatment, sleep apnea can be stopped or greatly reduced. Breathing devices such as continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) machines and lifestyle changes are common sleep apnea treatments. CPAP therapy is highly effective in treating OSA, but many people find it difficult to wear the CPAP breathing mask while sleeping. Surgery to improve airflow during sleep and nerve stimulation sometimes are used to treat sleep apnea, especially when CPAP therapy fails.

UAB Medicine provides complete treatment for even the most complex sleep apnea cases. We use a team approach that combines the expertise of multiple medical specialties, including internal medicine, pulmonology, otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat, or ENT), and surgery.

UAB Medicine was an early leader in sleep disorders, receiving our first accreditation from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine in 1986. The UAB Sleep/Wake Disorders Center is active in the latest clinical trials and research topics, such as the relationship between sleep disorders and obesity, new therapies for restless legs syndrome, and how obstructive sleep apnea contributes to some forms of high blood pressure. Our work in understanding and treating sleep disorders led the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to present us with a Sleep Academic Award.

UAB Medicine is home to the first sleep disorders technologist in the world to be fully certified in the Inspire Care Pathway. This is a set of guidelines or “best practices” for using the Inspire upper airway stimulation device, which is implanted to treat sleep apnea. Click here to learn more.

Thanks to our extensive expertise, patients with difficult sleep problems are referred from throughout Alabama to the UAB Sleep/Wake Disorders Center. This state-of-the-art facility within UAB Hospital-Highlands offers the convenience of easy access and free parking. A significant advantage of coming to UAB is that patients do not have to wait several weeks for test results after an overnight sleep study. Instead, results are provided the morning after the study, along with a diagnosis, treatment plan, and any prescriptions needed. Patients usually can leave by 9 am the following morning.

UAB Medicine has no financial ties to companies that sell or service sleep products such as CPAP machines. Patients are free to choose their own provider.

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