History of Sleep Apnea
Considering how common a condition it is, it is remarkable that the first reports of what is now called Obstructive Sleep Apnea - OSA -date only from 1965 when it was independently described by French and German investigators. The term "Pickwickian syndrome", inspired by Charles Dickens' account in The Pickwick Papers of Joe, the fat boy, has been used in medicine to describe various conditions associated with obesity, excessive appetite and sleepiness and it was once presumed to be due to an endocrine problem.
The early reports of sleep apnea described individuals who were very severely affected, often presenting with severe hypoxemia, hypercapnia and congestive heart failure. Tracheotomy was the recommended treatment and, though it could be life-saving, post-operative complications in the stoma were frequent in these very obese and short-necked individuals.
The management of obstructive sleep apnea was revolutionized with the introduction of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), first described in 1981 by Dr Colin Sullivan and associates in Sydney, Australia. The first models were bulky and noisy but the design was rapidly improved and by the late 1980s CPAP was widely adopted. The availability of an effective treatment stimulated an aggressive search for affected individuals and led to the establishment of hundreds of specialised clinics dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders. Though many types of sleep problems are recognised, the vast majority of patients attending these centres have OSA - Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
Adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_apnea#History.