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Causes and Risk Factors for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
OSA is estimated to occur in approximately 18 million Americans; a quarter of men and one-tenth of women between the ages of 30 and 60 years have sleep study evidence of OSA, and the prevalence in children is estimated to be 1-3%. It is a treatable disease; however, if left untreated, it is associated with serious medical conditions.
Risk factors for OSA include:
Obesity. The extra tissue caused by fat deposits around the throat, chest and abdomen create extra resistance which can hamper breathing. However, just because someone is overweight does not mean they have OSA. The opposite is also true: many thin people have OSA.
Large neck size. A thick neck can narrow the airway, and increase the likelihood of OSA. Higher risk of OSA is associated with a neck circumference greater than 17 inches (43 centimeters) for men and 15 inches (38 centimeters) for women.
Narrowed upper airway. A small jaw or enlarged tongue can narrow the upper airway and predispose individuals toward the development of OSA. Enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids can also restrict the size of the upper airway.
Positive OSA family history. If you have family members with sleep apnea, you may be at increased risk. Like eye color, the shape and size of the airway and cranial facial features may be inherited from our parents and can have an impact on the likelihood of developing OSA.
Old age, male gender, post-menopausal women, and minorities. OSA is more common in adults over the age of 65 years, men, post-menopausal women, and, among those under the age of 35 years, some minority groups (blacks, Latino and Pacific Islanders).
Smoking and use of alcohol or tranquilizers. Smokers are nearly three times more likely to have OSA, and alcohol or tranquilizers can relax the muscles in your upper airway and predispose it to collapse.
High blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes. OSA is more likely in people who have hypertension and up to three times more common in those with diabetes.
Chronic nasal congestion. OSA occurs twice as often in those with consistent nasal congestion at night, regardless of cause.
Enlarged tonsils or adenoids. In children, OSA is most often associated with sizeable tonsils or adenoids.
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