A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.
It is possible to develop sleep apnea with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing sleep apnea. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.
Risk factors for sleep apnea include:
Heavy smokers —people who smoke more than two packs per day—are 40 times more likely to develop sleep apnea than nonsmokers.
Some studies have shown that people who use alcohol regularly have an increased risk of sleep apnea.
Using sedative medications can increase your risk of sleep apnea.
The following conditions may increase your risk of obstructive sleep apnea:
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- High blood pressure
- Facial deformities
- Esophageal reflux
- Enlarged tonsils or adenoids
- Chronic respiratory tract conditions, such as:
The following conditions may increase your risk of central sleep apnea:
- Bulbar poliomyelitis
- Neurodegenerative diseases
- Problems after cervical spine surgery
- Primary hypoventilation syndrome
- Brain tumors
- Down’s syndrome due to a large tongue and a thick neck
Men are thought to be 2 to 4 times more likely to develop sleep apnea than women. However, some researchers have suggested that this difference might actually be because women are underdiagnosed with the condition.
The tendency to develop sleep apnea appears to run in certain families.
Sleep apnea is more common among:
- African Americans
- People of Mexican origin
- Pacific Islanders
You have an increased risk of developing sleep apnea if you have the following physical characteristics:
- Thick neck
- Obstructed nasal passages
- Large tongue
- Narrow airway
- Receding chin
- Certain shapes and increased rigidity of the palate and jaw
You also have an increased risk of developing sleep apnea if you breathe through your mouth while sleeping, or if you snore.
American Sleep Apnea Association website. Available at:
. Published May 2005. Accessed September 17, 2008.
Cecil R, Goldman L, Benett JC.
Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2000.
NINDS sleep apnea information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at:
. Updated June 2008. Accessed September 17, 2008.
What are the risk factors for sleep apnea? Health Cares website. Available at:
. Updated July 2005. Accessed September 17, 2008.
What is sleep apnea? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
. Updated February 2008. Accessed September 17, 2008.
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