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Who is at risk?

Sleep apnea is a common but unrecognized disease. Even if some factors put you at increased risk, people can have sleep apnea, regardless of age, sex or body type.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (often called OSA for short) affects 1 to 6% of the world adult population(1). OSA is the most common type of sleep apnea(1) but still under-recognized: 80% of people are unaware that they suffer from it, and therefore are untreated(2)

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Sleep apnea risk factors

Anyone can have sleep apnea, regardless of age, sex or body type. Having any of the following factors may put you at increased risk(3):

  • Being older. Sleep apnea occurs significantly more often in adults older than 50. It usually reaches a plateau after 60 years of age, although recent studies show that it is still increasing after 70 years of age.
  • Being male. OSA is more common in men than women. This has been attributed to differences in anatomical and functional properties of the upper airway.
  • Excess weight – An adult with a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 30 or higher is considered to be obese. Your risk of sleep apnea increases with the amount of excess body weight.
  • Family history – Sleep apnea can appear more often among first-degree family members. This may be a result of either inherited traits or similar lifestyles.
  • Narrowed airway. If you have a nasal congestion, an anatomical defect or a respiratory allergy, you're more likely to develop OSA.
  • Post-menopause: OSA is more common in post-menopausal women.
  • Pregnancy: OSA increases during pregnancy, particularly during the third trimester.
  • Smoking is associated with a higher risk of snoring and developing an OSA.
  • Alcohol can increase upper airway collapsibility leading to apneas.
  • Sleep deprivation and supine posture are also potential contributors.
  • Muscle-relaxant medication: medication such as sedative hypnotic drugs and opiates can exacerbate OSA.




(1) The World Health Organization. Chronic respiratory diseases www.who.int/gard/publications/chronic_respiratory_diseases.pdf viewed 05/21/2015

(2) Obstructive Sleep Apnea – A guide for GP’s – British Lung Foundation (NHS)

(3) Sleep breathing disorders – European Respiratory Society WhiteBook (chapter 23)



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