Pathophysiology and risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea

Shannon J. Winakur, Philip L. Smith, Alan R. Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This chapter reviews the pathophysiology and risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Important risk factors for this disorder include obesity, male gender, and postmenopausal state. There is also an association between OSA and certain heritable factors, along with the endocrine disorders, acromegaly, and hypothyroidism. The pathogenesis of OSA is related to upper airway obstruction. Both neural and structural mechanisms may account for the development of pharyngeal obstruction during sleep. Neural factors influencing upper airway patency include neuromuscular reflexes, central nervous system (CNS) depressants, and neuromodulators; airway structures that both elongate and dilate the pharynx influence pharyngeal collapsibility. Based on our current understanding of the pathogenic mechanisms of upper airway obstruction, we outline the major principles for therapy of this disorder.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-112
Number of pages14
JournalSeminars in Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1998


  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Pathophysiology
  • Risk factors
  • Therapy
  • Upper airway

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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