June 27, 2022 3 min read
Sleep apnea is a very common problem, affecting 15-30% of men and 10-15% of women. There are many causes of sleep apnea, the most common one being excess body weight. But we also know that 25 to 40% of people with sleep apnea have family members with the same problem.
So, does that mean sleep apnea is hereditary?
The answer isn’t a simple yes or no. Sleep apnea does seem to have a genetic link, but we have yet to discover which genes are responsible for it. Plus, most disorders result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and sleep apnea is usually no exception. Here’s more about sleep apnea and whether your genes cause it.
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder where a person struggles to breathe normally during sleep. Sufferers are usually not aware this is happening but may experience daytime fatigue, trouble focusing and morning headaches. Those affected also tend to snore loudly.
Untreated, the condition raises a person’s risk of hypertension, heart attack and stroke, among countless other things. And as far as causes go, sleep apnea is a result of the tissues in the upper airway collapsing and obstructing airflow.
There are also different types of sleep apnea, including central sleep apnea and the more common form called obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea can happen either because the brain fails to send signals to the muscles that control breathing (central sleep apnea) or because something else is causing the muscles to relax too much while you sleep (obstructive sleep apnea).
There can be many reasons for the above scenarios. Many patients with central sleep apnea have it as a result of a stroke, a brain tumor, heart failure, or opioid use. With obstructive sleep apnea, however, the leading cause is excess body weight.
Obstructive sleep apnea is 7 times more common in people who are obese (BMI of 30.0 or above). Furthermore, studies also found that a 10% weight leads to a 32% increase in sleep apnea severity.
Excess weight may be the leading cause of the most common type of sleep apnea, but this condition is also known to have a strong genetic component.
As already said, family history can be present in up to 40% of all obstructive sleep apnea patients. Researchers also found that your risk of developing sleep apnea is proportional to the number of family members who have it. Besides that, different races seem to have different propensities to develop sleep apnea. And these findings were the same even when controlling for other risk factors, like smoking and obesity.
So, yes, sleep apnea is a heritable disease that can run in families. Although researchers haven’t found which genes are responsible for it. What they do know is that certain heritable factors tend to make us more prone to the condition, like body fat distribution, facial anatomy, and sleep rhythm.
And as far as central sleep apnea is concerned, there is currently no evidence for its heritability.
Sleep apnea is a potentially fatal condition that can increase a person’s risk of early death by over 60%. So, if you suspect you might have sleep apnea, speak to your doctor about your concerns.
If tests show you do have sleep apnea, you will be recommended treatment based on the severity of your condition and your needs. Some patients need continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which is using a special machine at night that keeps the upper airways open.
Others, however, can benefit from oral appliances like theGood Morning Snore Solution tongue stabilizing device. The device was clinically proven to stop mild to moderate snoring and can help patients with mild sleep apnea. Speak to your doctor about the possibility of using this appliance before taking any further steps.
Cumpston E, Chen P. Sleep Apnea Syndrome. [Updated 2021 Dec 12]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK564431/
Ferini-Strambi L, Fantini ML, Castronovo C. Epidemiology of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.Minerva Med. 2004;95(3):187-202.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15289748/
Dudley KA, Patel SR. Disparities and genetic risk factors in obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep Med. 2016;18:96-102.doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2015.01.015
Fonseca MI, Pereira T, Caseiro P. Death and disability in patients with sleep apnea--a meta-analysis.Arq Bras Cardiol. 2015;104(1):58-66.doi:10.5935/abc.20140172
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