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Respiratory condition characterized by repetitive collapse of the upper airway during sleep. There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which involves the collapse of tissues of the upper airway, is the most common form. In OSA airway collapse is terminated by a brief awakening, at which point the airway reopens and the person resumes breathing. Sleep apnea is often caused by excess fat in the neck area and is closely associated with obesity. Therefore, weight loss is effective in resolving sleep apnea. Other treatment may involve wearing a special mask during sleep to blow air into the upper airway (continuous positive airway pressure).
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on sleep apnea, visit Britannica.com.