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CPAP Newsletter: Is Sleep Apnea Hereditary?

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Research Spotlight: Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea Hereditary?

By now you probably know Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is caused by the soft palette or tongue obstructing air passage ways during sleep. But you might not know this disorder may also be genetic. (1)

Those with relatives with OSA are more likely to have apneas.

A study evaluating twenty participants with Sleep Apnea and forty of their undiagnosed relatives showed the disorder to be more prevalent among the group of relatives than within the general population. After undergoing a sleep study, 20% of the relatives were diagnosed as having a significant amount of apneas. This was compared to only 5% of participants with apneas in a random control group. (1)

OSA isn’t always just caused by your BMI.

BMI stands for body mass index and is a numerical expression of your height to weight ratio. While BMI is arguably considered inheritable and frequently associated with OSA, it isn’t an exclusive determinant to the disorder. (2) In the study mentioned above, the twenty participants evaluated all had average BMIs. This demonstrates that inheritable characteristics, not just weight, can make individuals susceptible to Sleep Apnea. (1) Curious about your BMI? Calculate it here. (1)

Physical traits are inheritable, therefore OSA can be, too.

Ever heard of a craniofacial complex? Everyone has one and it can be “one of the most important heritable determinants of OSA” (3). Your craniofacial complex is the composition of your head; including your face, skull and oral cavities. The same way you may look like a family member, you may also share a similar craniofacial complex and therefore also be affected by OSA. (3)

Don’t tell your relatives to schedule a sleep study just yet.

While having a relative with OSA increases the odds another family member may also have OSA, it is still important to be aware of key indicators. Snoring, daytime fatigue, morning headaches and irritability are just a few symptoms that come along with the condition. Share our risk assessment quiz with your family to see if a sleep study would be wise. (1)

Children can have OSA, but their symptoms can vary.

Although Sleep Apnea is often perceived as an adult disorder, it occurs among 2% of children. While many symptoms are similar to those in adults, children may have additional symptoms such as mood disorders, hyperactivity (ADHD) and enuresis (bedwetting). (4)

(1) “Is the sleep apnoea/hypopnoea syndrome inherited?” - Thorax, 1993, July 2010 (source).
(2) “Whole Genome Scan for Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Obesity in African American Families” - Respiratory and Clinical Care Medicine, 07 April 2004, July 2010 (source).
(3) “Genetics Aspects of Obstructive Sleep Apnea/Hypopnea Syndrome” - Department of Sleep Medicine, University of Edinburgh. 2006. July 2010 (source).
(4) “Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children” - American Academy of Sleep Physicians. 01 March 2004. July 2010 (source).