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Sleep Apnea: Prevalence

52 million people in the United States have sleep apnea, but only a fraction are diagnosed.

You might be wondering why so many are undiagnosed. Well, it’s pretty hard to notice pauses in your breathing on your own when you’re asleep, as they don’t always wake you up. The first one to notice is usually a bed partner. But if your bed partner is a heavy sleeper or you don’t have a bed partner it’s going to be harder for you to notice if you’re experiencing sleep disordered breathing episodes.

Normal apnea-hypopnea index, or pauses in breathing, while a person is sleeping is considered five or less episodes. This means a person’s airway completely collapses or partially collapses several times throughout the night. So if you’re experiencing this more than five times per night, obstructive sleep apnea is likely to blame.

For decades the medical community believed that the poster child patient for sleep apnea was the middle-aged, overweight male. Almost exclusively, this was the patient that received screenings for treatment while women, children and fit, young males suffered in silence, often unknowingly, and went untreated. Common symptoms such as mouth breathing and snoring were laughed about in sitcoms and explained away as just a part of being a middle-aged, overweight man; nothing to worry about except being an annoyance to your wife.

Fast forward to today, and we know that the estimated prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea in North America is approximately

25% to 30% in males and 10% to 15% in females

,when OSA is defined broadly as an apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) greater than five events per hour of sleep according to a Wisconsin Sleep Cohort study published in the National Library of Medicine.

We also know that according to the National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research, approximately 38,000 deaths occur on an annual basis that relate to cardiovascular problems that in one way, or another are connected to sleep apnea. This means diagnosis and treatment for all patients no matter their age, gender or body type could mean the difference between life and death and is of utmost importance.

According to the sleep foundation, not only are millions of people living undiagnosed with sleep apnea they’re also at risk for serious health complications like coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke and irregular heartbeat! Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and globally. Making the link between sleep apnea and heart complications deadly, especially when undiagnosed and untreated.

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