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Is Sleep Apnea Hereditary?

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Sleep apnea is a disorder that affects many people around the world and can cause daily disruptions like snoring. Many people wonder if sleep apnea can be hereditary. The answer to this question is yes—at least regarding obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). 

Research suggests that up to 40% of cases of obstructive sleep apnea are related to hereditary genetic factors. However, there appears to be no evidence that other types of sleep apnea are hereditary.

While having a family history of OSA may increase one’s risk for developing the disorder, other factors such as age, gender, body weight, and lifestyle choices may also play an important role in whether or not someone develops sleep apnea.

What Is Sleep Apnea? 

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that refers to periods when breathing stops or is greatly reduced while someone is asleep. People with sleep apnea may suffer from frequent interruptions throughout the night when the brain signals the body to wake up due to a lack of oxygen. During this process, oxygen levels drop and must be replenished through gasping for air.

It’s essential to be aware of the signs if you think you may have sleep apnea, as it can easily progress into more severe health conditions without proper treatment, such as an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.

Common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include loud and/or persistent snoring, pauses in breathing during sleep, insomnia, lack of energy, and irritability. Any of these symptoms could be a sign of sleep apnea, and it’s possible to have sleep apnea without snoring, so if you or someone close to you is experiencing any of them, it could be worthwhile to get checked for sleep apnea.

To accurately diagnose sleep apnea and determine the best course of treatment, a doctor will conduct a specialized sleep study that monitors body movements, breathing, oxygen saturation, and heart rate to evaluate how your body functions at night.

Types of Sleep Apnea

For those living with sleep apnea, understanding the two main types—obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA)—is key to getting the treatment you need. Knowing the differences between OSA and CSA can help you better understand how sleep apnea can affect you. 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Repetitive episodes of nocturnal breathing cessation characterize obstructive sleep apnea due to upper airway collapse. OSA often causes excessive daytime sleepiness and has been associated with increased cardiovascular risks and mortality.

The most common type of treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This therapeutic modality can effectively manage the symptoms of OSA and improve the overall quality of life. CPAP is typically administered through a nasal mask, known as nCPAP, but other positive airway pressure modalities are available, as well as other alternatives to CPAP.

Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea negatively impacts gas exchange and the ability to get a restful night’s sleep. It is often more difficult to diagnose than OSA because CSA is not caused by the obstruction of airflow but rather by an absence of recognized respiratory effort.

Symptoms of CSA can generally be the same as OSA, but CSA patients will also often experience more subtle symptoms such as morning headaches and tiredness during the day.

Treatment for CSA usually involves lifestyle changes like stress reduction techniques combined with medications such as opioid antagonists or acetazolamide, among others depending on the individual case. 

A senior man holding a cigarette next to an ash tray and a glass of alcohol.

Risks Factors That Could Lead To Sleep Apnea

It is essential to be mindful of the risk factors associated with sleep apnea, as it can frequently go undiagnosed and severely disrupt the quality of life for those affected.

Some lifestyle choices and physical characteristics that might increase one’s likelihood of having sleep apnea include the following:

  • Age plays a role in this disorder, as normal changes in the fatty tissue near your neck and tongue can increase the risk of sleep apnea.
  • Family history and genetics may also increase the risk. If you have any genetic conditions, such as congenital central hypoventilation syndrome, it can make you more prone to CSA.
  • Unhealthy lifestyle habits such as drinking alcohol and smoking can also affect how your brain controls sleep or the muscles involved in breathing, thus raising your risk of developing the disorder.
  • Opioid use can lead to problems with how your brain regulates sleep, making you vulnerable to this condition.
  • Other health conditions may influence how well your brain controls the airway and chest muscles, causing CSA.

By being aware of these risk factors and making informed decisions, you can potentially decrease your risk or even prevent the occurrence of sleep apnea before it affects you.

Can Sleep Apnea Be Hereditary?

Although sleep apnea can be linked to various medical and lifestyle factors, as mentioned above, studies have found that genetics may play an influential role too.

The shape and size of the skull, face, and upper airway determine an individual’s risk for developing OSA. In these cases, risk factors can be inherited from one’s parents.

Estimates suggest that up to 40% of all OSA cases might be hereditary. However, having a family history of OSA does not necessarily guarantee it will occur. It is important for individuals to monitor their risk factors regardless of whether they have a family history.

Take the First Step Towards Better Sleep Health Today

It is possible that you could have a hereditary form of OSA, but do not be discouraged, and remember that Dr. Saleema Adatia and her team are here to help you receive a proper diagnosis and treatment for sleep apnea.

We understand that discussing your sleep health problems and exploring them further can be intimidating or uncomfortable, but rest assured you will receive considerate, attentive care from our team.To start your journey towards better sleep health, contact the Sleep Apnea Clinic today so we can help address your sleep apnea concerns and get you back on track to optimal health!

Dr. Saleema Adatia

Written by Dr. Saleema Adatia

Dr Adatia did her dental training at Tufts University in Boston MA and graduated in 2006.  Returning to her hometown of Calgary, Dr. Adatia worked as an associate for many years before starting Symmetry Dental.  

Dr. Adatia has focused her clinical practice to the dental management of snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. She has completed extensive training in dental sleep therapy, including a residency at her alma mater, Tufts University, and multiple courses focused on evidence-based education and the medical aspects of sleep related breathing disorders.

Dr. Adatia is a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, which focuses on training dentists on how to provide oral appliance therapy for people who suffer from sleep apnea.  She has also been involved in clinical trials investigating the effectiveness of novel technologies for the treatment of OSA.

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