Twenty-four percent of adult men and nine percent of adult women, or more than 20 million Americans, are estimated to have some degree of obstructive sleep apnea. Of these, six million are estimated to have cases severe enough to warrant immediate therapeutic intervention. However, obstructive sleep apnea was not well understood or recognized by primary care physicians until recently, and only a fraction of these 20 million obstructive sleep apnea patients have been diagnosed and treated by a physician. The National Sleep Association estimated that the number of patients currently undergoing treatment is probably less than 500,000.

While obstructive sleep apnea is commonly associated with obesity and male gender, it really affects a broad cross-section of the population. A very significant risk factor is habitual snoring. Unfortunately, results of a recent study indicate that one in three men and nearly one in five women who habitually snore suffer from some degree of obstructive sleep apnea.

Gender  More men than women appear to have sleep apnea. A range of studies has reported apnea or hypopnea (shallow nighttime breathing) in 9% to 25% of men and 4% to 15% of women. Sleep apnea may be under-diagnosed in women, particularly in older women. In general, older women have the same incidence as men their own age. It is not clear why apnea occurs more often after menopause. Although women tend to gain weight and develop larger necks after menopause, a 2001 study suggested that these factors were not the only reason for the increase in sleep apnea in postmenopausal women.

Age  Sleep apnea is most common and its symptoms are worse in middle-aged adults (between 40 and 60 years old). Nevertheless, it affects people of all ages, and, in fact, has been reported in between 1.6% to 3.4% of children. Some experts believe that sleep-disordered breathing may occur in as many as 11% of children.

Ethnicity  African Americans face a higher risk for sleep apnea than any other ethnic group in the United States. Other groups at increased risk include Pacific Islanders and Mexicans.

Geography  According to one study, although urban dwellers are more likely to report disturbed sleep, particularly as a result of stress, rural dwellers have a significantly higher risk for apnea.

It has been Dr Moses’ experience that gender, age, ethnicity and geography are really poor predictors of an apnea patient.  While the health history and examination are more important predictors of the possibility of apnea, the only true indicator of apnea is a polysomnographic (sleep) study.

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