Anyone can have sleep apnea — old, young, female, male, and even children. Nevertheless, certain sleep apnea causes and risk factors have been associated with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
Sleep Apnea Causes
During sleep there is a loss of muscle tone. Sleep is a rest and regeneration period. Thus, all of the muscles in the body relax during sleep. In patients with obstructive sleep apnea, the throat muscles and tongue relax and block the airway. The airways become temporarily blocked or narrowed during sleep, reducing air pressure and preventing air from flowing normally into the lungs.
Certain physical features of the face, skull, and neck can affect the size of the airway:
Large Neck – A large neck (17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women) is a risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea. While some people’s necks are naturally larger than others, being overweight or obese greatly increases the chance of having sleep apnea.
Having Teeth rRmoved for Orthodontic Treatment increases the risk for OSA.
Facial and Skull Characteristics – Structural abnormalities in the face and skull contribute to many cases of sleep apnea.
Soft Palate Characteristics. Some people have specific abnormalities in the soft area (palate) at the back of the mouth and throat that may lead to sleep apnea.
These abnormalities include:
- Enlarged tongue
- Narrow upper jaw
- Undersized or receding lower jaw or chin (micrognathia)
- Jutting lower jaw (retrognathia)
- Enlarged tonsils
An Enlarged Soft Palate may be a significant risk factor for sleep apnea. The soft palate and the walls of the throat around it collapse easily.
Muscle Weakness. Abnormalities or weakness in the muscles that surround the airway can also contribute to obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea Risk Factors
Gender. Obstructive sleep apnea is more common in men than in women. Men tend to have larger necks and weigh more than women. A 2013 research study led by UCLA scientist showed that women are less likely than men to be diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. Furthermore, the study also showed that women with sleep apnea are more profoundly affected in the areas of the brain that regulate mood and decision-making.
The fact that men are twice as likely than women to be diagnosed with sleep apnea may be partially attributed to how women describe their symptoms. Sleep apnea in women is commonly mistaken for depression, hypertension, hypochondria or other disorders.
Obesity. Obesity is a major risk factor for sleep apnea. Obesity can contribute to sleep apnea when fat deposits fill throat tissue. Obesity is one of the most recurring risk factors for OSA. Although, patients who are physically fit can also have OSA.
Age. Sleep apnea is most common in adults ages 40 – 60 years old. Middle age is also when symptoms are worse. However, sleep apnea can affect people of all ages.
Family History. People with a family history of obstructive sleep apnea are at increased risk of developing OSA.
Alcohol Use. Alcohol use may be associated with apnea. Patients diagnosed with sleep apnea are recommended not to drink alcohol before bedtime.
Smoking. Smokers are at higher risk for apnea. Those who smoke more than two packs a day have a risk 40 times greater than nonsmokers.
Medical Conditions Related to Sleep Apnea
- Diabetes. Diabetes is associated with sleep apnea and snoring.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). This is a condition caused by acid backing up into the esophagus. It is a common cause of heartburn. GERD and sleep apnea often coincide. Apnea itself may also cause pressure changes that trigger GERD.
- Obstructive sleep apnea is associated with multiple major stroke risk factors but is also an independent risk factor for stroke.
- Research has determined that poor sleep habits can be a cause of Alzheimer’s Disease (ALS). Moreover, lack of sleep can advance progression of the disease.
- Sleep apnea be a cause of congestive heart failure, but the presence of congestive heart failure may also trigger or worsen sleep-disordered breathing.
- Sleep Apnea exposes the heart and circulation to harmful stimuli that may cause or contribute to the development of most cardiovascular diseases.
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a recognized cause of secondary hypertension. OSA episodes produce surges in systolic and diastolic pressure that keep mean blood pressure levels elevated at night.
Read more about Health Risks of Sleep Apena.