Is sleep apnea genetic? Understand hereditary danger

“However … studies have provided some evidence of a link between obstructive sleep apnea and genetic factors – it’s believed that about 40% of obstructive sleep apnea is genetics,” says Dr. Hutz SELF.

Here are some of the risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea.

Various genetic factors, like the structure of the facial bones, the tone of the upper airway muscles, and the distribution of body fat, can all increase your risk of obstructive sleep apnea, doctors say.

“Because members [can be] Similar shaped facial features such as a larger tongue, a set jaw position (overbite), a large neck or other body shapes that close the throat can be seen from generation to generation. Steven Holfinger6, MD, a sleep medicine physician at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, says SELF.

Obesity is another risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea. While between 2% and 5% of adults have obstructive sleep apnea, this number increases to 30% or more in obese adults7.

According to the National Library of Medicine, it is believed that excess adipose tissue in the neck and head can narrow the airways, and abdominal fat can interfere with the lungs’ ability to fully expand and relax, contributing to sleep apnea3.

Nicole Aaronson8, MD, Assistant Professor of Otorhinolaryngology and Pediatrics at the Thomas Jefferson Sidney Kimmel School of Medicine, mentions that on a physical exam, a large neck circumference is the primary physical finding that correlates with obstructive sleep apnea9.

Sex is another risk factor as obstructive sleep apnea is more common in men than women, according to the Mayo Clinic10. (However, the risk increases for those who are at birth after menopause.) Other risk factors include drinking alcohol just before bed, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, stroke, old age, chronic nasal congestion, sleeping on your back, and a history of obstructive sleep apnea10. If you have a mild case of obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend making some lifestyle changes that address these risk factors, such as quitting smoking, exercising, and using decongestants.

Is Central Sleep Apnea Genetic?

Central sleep apnea is a sleep where a person’s breathing stops repeatedly while they sleep because their brain isn’t sending the right signals to the muscles that control breathing, explains the Mayo Clinic11. Central sleep apnea is rarer than obstructive sleep apnea and, according to doctors, can also be a little more complicated to understand.

While certain underlying causes of central sleep apnea – like heart problems – may have an underlying genetic component, central sleep apnea is usually not hereditary, MD Phillip LoSavio12, Head of Sleep Surgery Section in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery (ENT) at Rush University Medical Center, says SELF.

Here are some of the risk factors for central sleep apnea.

According to Dr. Holfinger, there are several common causes of central sleep apnea. For example, changes in oxygen levels at higher altitudes can cause irregular breathing, so you may develop central sleep apnea at higher altitudes11. And taking certain medications like opiates or conditions like heart failure or stroke can leave you prone to developing central sleep apnea11.

In some situations, central sleep apnea can occur when a person with obstructive sleep apnea is treated with a continuous airway pressure (CPAP) machine. In this case, one speaks of treatment-related central sleep apnea or complex sleep apnea.

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