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Sleep apnoea and its prevalence in Europe and the USA


Description :

There are three known forms of sleep apnea: central (CSA), obstructive (OSA), and complex or mixed sleep apnea that is a combination of both central and obstructive and these constitute 1%, 84% and 15% of cases respectively. In CSA, breathing is interrupted by a lack of respiratory effort. With OSA, a physical block to airflow, despite respiratory effort, interrupts the breathing and snoring is common. Overall 99% of all cases are OSA based. 

If you suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) - also known as sleep apnea, and by far the most common type, you'll know that this form of sleep-disordered breathing can seriously affect your quality of life and impact your health if left untreated. It is estimated that sleep apnoea affects between 2% to 4% of the adult population in the UK, yet this debilitating condition often goes undiagnosed so we are far from sure.

Sleep apnoea and its prevalence in Europe and the USA

At 4% there would be approximately 2.5 million sufferers in the UK but very few people are actually being treated currently for the problem.

OSA is a worldwide phenomenon. Studies suggest that in Western European countries from 3-7% of middle-aged men and 2-5% of middle-aged women suffer from OSA, but figures vary widely due to low diagnosis levels.

Living with a sleep apnoea sufferer

Despite the increasing recognition that obstructive sleep apnoea is a relatively common condition, population data used to estimate disease prevalence in the United States and abroad did not exist accurately until about 15 years ago. Since the 1990s much has happened to quantify the levels of obstructive sleep apnea in various populations. A number of studies using large samples representative of the general population are now available and provide prevalence estimates for obstructive sleep apnea in countries such as the United States, Australia, Spain, China, Korea, and India.

According to figures issued by the World Health Organization approximately only 100 million people worldwide have OSA. In the USA, OSA is estimated to affect 1 in 4 men and 1 in 9 women; and affects a total of 23 million working adults. Untreated moderate or severe OSA is associated with a six-fold increased risk of death from all causes, independent of any other illnesses.

Other published figures state much a higher total figure based on detailed analysis of registered sufferers and some of these figures are shown below. If one accepts that the addition of the undiagnosed sufferers would at least double these numbers then the figures are quite alarming.

Country % with OSA    Actual Number
United Kingdom 4,0%    2.5 million
United States 4.1%    18.5 million
Australia 3.1%    0.8 million
India 7.5%    85 million
China 4.2%    57 million
Korea 4.5%    2.3 million

There is evidence that regular snoring and OSA are both independently associated with alterations in glucose metabolism and OSA might be a risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes. The prevalence of OSA is also found more often in those patients with cardiac or metabolic disorders than it is in the general population.

The prevalence of sleep apnoea is higher in different population subgroups, including overweight or obese people, those of some ethnic groups such as African-American, and in older individuals. The fact that prevalence estimates of obstructive sleep apnea from North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia are not too substantially different suggests that this disease is very common not only in developed but also in developing countries. Moreover, given the widespread under-recognition of this disorder by the medical and lay communities, the public and personal health care costs globally are likely to be absolutely enormous.

Sleep apnoea and its prevalence in Europe and the USA

Source: World Health Organisation

It is estimated in the USA that although there is a known figure of 18.5 million residents* with sleep apnoea, there are over twice that many with some form of major sleep disorder – 40 million in total. If these figures are to be believed, the difference is mostly attributed to undiagnosed OSA, and the problem is even more enormous than we believe and constantly worsening.

Sources for US Statistics: 27.02.2012 - National Sleep Foundation and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

*US statistics – see the detail for these Sleep Disorders.

It is important for us to recognise that obstructive sleep apnoea often goes undiagnosed. Doctors usually can't detect the condition during routine surgery visits and no blood test can help diagnose the condition. Most people who have sleep apnoea don't know they have it because it only occurs during sleep so a family member or bed partner might be the first to notice the distinctive signs of sleep apnoea.

Untreated sleep apnoea can:

 Increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, diabetes and cancer

 Increase the risk of, or worsen heart failure

 Make arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, much more likely

 Increase the chance of having work-related or driving accidents

Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that requires long-term management. Lifestyle changes, mouthpieces, surgery, and breathing devices can successfully treat sleep apnoea in many people, and it is critical to get professional help and support if you suspect that you are suffering from the condition described. For further information on sleep apnoea please Click Here.


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*by andreascy*