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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:

Smoking

People who smoke more than two packs per day are more likely to develop sleep apnea than nonsmokers.

Alcohol

Some studies have shown that people who use alcohol regularly have an increased risk of sleep apnea.

Sedative Medications

Using sedative medications can increase your risk of sleep apnea.

Medical Conditions

The following conditions may increase your risk of obstructive sleep apnea:

The following conditions may increase your risk of central sleep apnea:

Gender

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 may be because women are underdiagnosed with the condition.

Genetic Factors

Sleep apnea appears to run in certain families.

Ethnic Background

Sleep apnea is more common among:

  • African Americans
  • People of Mexican origin
  • Pacific Islanders
Physical Characteristics

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
  • Overbite
  • 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.

References:

NINDS sleep apnea information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/sleep_apnea/sleep_apnea.htm. Updated December 28, 2010. Accessed June 3, 2013.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated May 23, 2013. Accessed June 3, 2013.

Sleep apnea. American Sleep Apnea Association website. Available at: http://www.sleepapnea.org/learn/sleep-apnea.html. Accessed June 3, 2013.

What is sleep apnea? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/SleepApnea/SleepApnea_Summary.html. Updated July 10, 2012. Accessed June 3, 2013.

Who is at risk for sleep apnea. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/SleepApnea/SleepApnea_WhatIs.html. Updated July 10, 2012. Accessed June 3, 2013.



Last reviewed May 2014 by Marcin Chwistek, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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