Sleep Apnea Chapter 10

Risk Factors


Risk Factors for Obstructive Sleep Apnea

  • Obesity. If you’re obese, fat deposits in and around your upper airway can obstruct your breathing. About 70% of people who have OSA are obese, and about 40% of obese men and women have OSA.

  • Middle age (age). OSA is most common in adults ages 40-60, and symptoms are worse at this time as well.

  • Male gender. OSA is more common in men than women. Rates of OSA in women increase after menopause, when women may gain weight and develop larger necks.

  • Use of alcohol, sedatives, or tranquilizers. These substances relax the muscles in your throat.

  • Smoking. If you smoke, you’re three times more likely to have OSA than people who’ve never smoked. People who smoke more than two packs a day have 40 times the risk of nonsmokers.

  • Large neck. Having a neck with a circumference of 17 inches or more (for men) or 16 inches or more (for women) is a risk factor.

  • Other anatomical features. Having a long lower face, a head is wider and shorter than average, a narrow upper jaw, a small, receding chin, an overbite, or a larger tongue than average may all lead to OSA. Having a soft palate that is stiffer and/or larger than normal or enlarged tonsils and adenoids are also risk factors.

  • Prolonged sitting. Sitting for long periods of time causes fluids to accumulate in your legs. It’s possible that these fluids may shift to your upper body when you lie down at night, narrowing your airway.



Risk Factors for Central Sleep Apnea

  • Male gender. Males are more likely to develop central sleep apnea.

  • Older age. You have a higher risk of central sleep apnea if you are over the age of 65.

  • Stroke or brain tumor. These can damage the brain and hurt its ability to regulate breathing.

  • Certain heart disorders. People with atrial fibrillation (a type of heart arrhythmia) or congestive heart failure have a higher risk of central sleep apnea.



Risk Factors for Complex Sleep Apnea

The risk factors for complex sleep apnea are the same as the risk factors for OSA, but complex sleep apnea may be more common in people who have heart disorders.


Risk Factors for Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children

  • Enlarged tonsils and adenoids. OSA is now the most common reason tonsils and adenoids are removed in children.

  • Obesity. Obesity is thought to contribute to OSA in children and adolescents by causing abnormal enlargement of the tonsil and adenoids, increasing closing pressure on the airway, altering chest wall mechanics, and interfering with breathing control.

  • Certain abnormalities of the face and skull, for example Pierre Robin syndrome, in which the child is born with a smaller-than-normal lower jaw and a tongue that falls back in the throat.

  • Certain neuromuscular disorders, such as muscular dystrophy.


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