What Increases Your Risk
Certain things make it more
or less likely that you will have obstructive
sleep apnea. Some of these you cannot change,
while others you can.
Things you can't change
- Aging. Sleep apnea is most common in people age
30 and older.
- Being male. Sleep apnea is more common in men.1
- Family history. If other members of your family
have sleep apnea, you are more likely to have it than someone who doesn't have a family history of it.
- Ethnicity. Blacks, Hispanics, and Pacific
Islanders have a greater risk of sleep apnea than whites. Blacks get
sleep apnea at a younger age than whites.1
- Deformities of the spine. Deformities of the
spine, such as
scoliosis, may interfere with breathing and contribute
to sleep apnea.
- Conditions that may cause head and face abnormalities. Conditions such as
Marfan's syndrome and
Down syndrome may result in abnormalities and increase the risk for sleep apnea.
- Menopause. Recent studies show that sleep
apnea occurs more often in women who have been through
menopause than in women who have not.1 After menopause, women get sleep apnea at a rate similar to
men.2 Experts don't know why or how menopause
increases the risk of sleep apnea.
Things you may be able to change
- Obesity. About 7 out of 10 people who have sleep apnea
obese.1 Obesity is the factor
most likely to lead to sleep apnea.
- Neck circumference. People who are overweight may
have extra tissue around their neck, adding to their risk for sleep apnea. The
risk increases for a man whose neck measures more than 17 inches around and for
a woman whose neck measures more than 16 inches around.
- Enlarged tissues of the nose, mouth, or throat. Enlarged tissues in the nose, mouth, or throat can
block your airway while you sleep, making sleep apnea
more likely. Surgery can sometimes correct the blockage and improve sleep
- Bone deformities. Bone deformities of the nose,
mouth, or throat can interfere with breathing, causing sleep apnea. Some people
who have sleep apnea have a small, receding jaw. Surgery can sometimes correct
these deformities and improve sleep apnea.
- Use of alcohol or medicine. Drinking alcohol or
taking certain medicines before going to sleep can increase the risk for sleep
apnea. Medicines include sleeping pills and
- Sleeping on your back and using pillows. Sleeping
on your back and using one or more pillows may make sleep apnea
- Smoking. Smoking can increase your risk for sleep
apnea, because the nicotine in tobacco relaxes the muscles that keep the
- Poor sleep habits. For example, going to bed in different places may increase your risk for sleep apnea.
- Disorders of the hormone (endocrine) system. Disorders that may increase your risk include hypothyroidism and
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Mark A. Rasmus, MD - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Sleep Medicine
June 17, 2011
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