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Is Sleep Apnea Genetic?

Apr 16, 2021
3 minutes read

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder affecting 18 million people. There are two kinds of sleep apnea, obstructive and central. Obstructive sleep apnea is when there is a blockage or dysfunction of your upper airway muscles when you sleep. Central sleep apnea is when your brain does not send the signal for you to breathe while you sleep. Roughly 80% of these people go undiagnosed because they think it is normal to sleep in that manner. What they are not aware of is that they are suffering from sleep apnea syndrome and it may be hereditary meaning that it may be a shared trait among family members. According to research done by Healthline, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is 40% accreditable to genetics. They also found out that the more relatives you have that have been diagnosed with sleep apnea the higher your chances are of developing the condition. 

If your mother or father suffers from sleep apnea, then your risk factor is  50% greater for developing sleep apnea. It is clear that there is a genetic basis for sleep apnea but what scientists are not clear about is the exact candidate genes and epidemiology that is responsible. There seem to be quite a few genetic factors like obesity, body fat, and body mass index (BMI) that can have an indirect link to developing sleep apnea. This means that if you have a history of obesity in your family, then you may indirectly be at an increased risk for sleep apnea. A family history of heart issues/heart failure may indirectly increase your chance of developing sleep apnea as well. Endocrine or metabolic syndromes may also be an indirect metric cause of the development of the sleep apnea phenotype as well as hypertension (high blood pressure), insulin resistance which can lead to type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. 

Man snoring loudly because of sleep apnea

Other genetic factors that can influence whether or not you develop sleep apnea are facial shape and structure as well as tonsil size and neck circumference. Loud snoring may also be a sign. The prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome was higher in men than women however women experiencing menopause are at an increased risk of developing sleep apnea. There is also a linkage between sleep apnea and minorities like African-Americans, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders. Abnormalities in the brain stem like tumors have also been linked to sleep apnea-hypopnea syndrome as well as some gene polymorphisms. Sleep apnea can lead to low oxygen saturation in the blood also known as hypoxemia and if you suffer from heart disease it can lead to sudden death which is why your health care provider may want to check your blood oxygen levels. 

When Should I Talk to My Doctor?

Woman discussing sleep apnea with her doctor

You should always keep your doctor up to date on any symptoms you are having but if you snore loudly, wake up gasping for air while sleeping, wake up with a dry mouth,  have a lack of energy, morning headaches, or excessive daytime sleepiness then you should let them know immediately since these things may be signs of sleep apnea. Your doctor may refer you to a sleep medicine specialist to have a sleep study or polysomnography done to find out more about what kind of sleep apnea you have as well as your AHI score (apnea-hypopnea index). You will most likely be prescribed a CPAP or continuous positive airway pressure device for your sleep apnea. It is very important to keep up with your doctors' treatment plan whether that be CPAP or otherwise in order for your sleep apnea symptoms to improve. 

Written by The Sleeplay Team

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