By Denise DeWitt / EmpowHer Writer
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that can cause you to stop breathing up to 30 times an hour while you sleep. The three types of sleep apnea are obstructive, central, and complex. The symptoms for all three are similar, but the risk factors vary.
Risk Factors for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
• Weight – Of the more than 12 million adults in America who have obstructive sleep apnea, over half of them are overweight. Recent studies have also shown that people who are obese and those who have type 2 diabetes often have undiagnosed sleep apnea. Having a large neck or a collar size over 17.5 inches may also suggest an increased risk.
• Gender – Sleep apnea is more common in men. One out of 25 middle-aged men has sleep apnea, compared to one out of 50 middle-aged women. Women who have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) are at significantly higher risk for sleep apnea than are women who do not have PCOS, and obese women with PCOS have an even higher risk.
• Age – You are more likely to get sleep apnea as you get older. At least one out of 10 people over the age of 65 has sleep apnea. Women are more likely to develop sleep apnea after menopause.
• Race – African Americans, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders are more likely to have sleep apnea than are Caucasians.
• Family history – You are more likely to develop sleep apnea if someone else in your family also has it.
• High blood pressure – Many people with hypertension or high blood pressure are diagnosed with sleep apnea.
• Smoking – If you smoke, you are three times more likely to have sleep apnea than people who have never smoked. Smoking may cause fluid retention and inflammation in the upper airway, which reduces the space for air to flow during sleep. This condition will most likely decrease after you quit smoking.
• Physical characteristics – Small airways in the nose, throat, or mouth increase the risk of sleep apnea. Small airways may be due to the shape of the physical structure of the face, such as the palate and jaw, or may be the result of a large tongue. Allergies and other medical conditions can also cause airways to be smaller than normal.
Sleep Apnea in Children
Children may experience sleep apnea due to large tonsils or adenoids that block airflow when they are asleep. The resulting poor sleep and lack of rest may result in apparent hyperactivity or ADHD. While surgery can be done to remove the tonsils, many doctors chose to wait to see if these tissues shrink over time, which is common as small children grow.
Risk Factors for Central Sleep Apnea:
Disease or injury involving the brain stem, such as a brain tumor, stroke, a chronic respiratory disease or a viral infection may lead to Central Sleep Apnea. People with CSA rarely snore.
Diagnosing Sleep Apnea
Tell your doctor about any symptoms of sleep apnea that you notice or that your family members mention to you. Your doctor may refer you to a sleep disorder center for testing, which often includes overnight monitoring to study how your body functions while you sleep. Tests may involve equipment that monitors your heart, lung, and brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements, and blood oxygen levels while you sleep.
If you are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor may refer you to an ear, nose and throat doctor (otolaryngologist) to rule out a physical blockage in your nose or throat. If you are diagnosed with central sleep apnea, you may be referred to a heart doctor (cardiologist) or a neurologist to rule out problems with your heart or nervous system.