Sleep Apnea

by Terry Watson | October 23rd, 2012

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is estimated to affect about 4% of men and 2% of women. In one study of people over 18 years of age, obstructive sleep apnea was estimated to develop in 1.5% of people per year over the 5 year study. It is probably more common than either of these numbers because the population is becoming more obese, and obesity worsens obstructive sleep apnea. More shocking is the estimate that only 10% of people with obstructive sleep apnea are currently receiving treatment and many patients with sleep apnea remain undiagnosed.

Some groups are more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea. Men are more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than women before age 50. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is estimated to affect about 4% of men and 2% of women. In one study of people over 18 years of age, obstructive sleep apnea was estimated to develop in 1.5% of people per year over the 5 year study. It is probably more common than either of these numbers because the population is becoming more obese, and obesity worsens obstructive sleep apnea. More shocking is the estimate that only 10% of people with obstructive sleep apnea are currently receiving treatment and many patients with sleep apnea remain undiagnosed.

Some groups are more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea. Men are more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than women before age 50. After age 50, the risk is the same in men and women. Among obese patients, 70% have obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea worsens in severity and prevalence with increasing obesity. Among patients with heart disease 30% to 50% have obstructive sleep apnea, and among patients with strokes, 60% have obstructive sleep apnea. A recent study estimated that 14% of NFL football players and 34% of NFL linemen have obstructive sleep apnea.

African-Americans have a 2.5 times greater risk of obstructive sleep apnea than Caucasians. In India, 7.5% of males have obstructive sleep apnea. Chinese males have a 4% prevalence and Chinese females a 2% prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea. This is interesting because the prevalence is similar to American Caucasians, but the Chinese population is generally smaller and less obese than the general American population. Therefore, something besides obesity must be the explanation for obstructive sleep apnea in the Chinese population. We do not understand the reasons for these differences, but studies are ongoing to better define the risks.

The prevalence of sleep apnea in nonobese and otherwise healthy children younger than 8 years old is somewhere between 1% to 3%. Obstructive sleep apnea may develop in children of all ages, even in infants. Prematurely born infants are at a higher risk to develop sleep apnea.

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