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Sleep Apnea Severity Linked to Race

Update Date: Jun 26, 2013 02:17 PM EDT

A new study has linked race to sleep apnea.  Even after accounting for body mass index, researchers found that sleep apnea severity is higher among African-American men in certain age groups.

Lead researcher Dr. James A. Rowley, professor of internal medicine in Wayne State University's School of Medicine, African-American men younger than 40 years old had on average higher apnea hypopnea index (AHI) by 3.21 breathing pauses per hour of sleep compared to white men younger than 40 years old with the same body mass index.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea and affects at least 4 percent of men and 2 percent of women.  The condition is caused by complete or partial obstruction of the upper airway occurring during sleep despite an ongoing effort to breathe.

Rowley and his team found that among participants between the ages of 50 and 59, being an African-American man increased AHI by 2.79 breathing events per hour of sleep.  However, no differences in AHI were found between African-American women and white women.

"The results show that in certain age groups, after correcting for other demographic factors, the severity of sleep apnea as measured by the apnea-hypopnea index is higher in African-American males than Caucasian males," Rowley said in a news release.

The latest study involved 512 patients over three years, comprising 340 African Americans and 172 Caucasians.  Researchers said all participants were at least 18 years old and have an AHI of more than five events per night of sleep. Researchers had looked at the link between race and AHI while accounting for the effect of confounders like gender, age, BMI and comorbidities.

Researchers still do not know the mechanism for a racial difference in sleep apnea severity.  However, they say some possibilities may include anatomical differences that affect the upper airway mechanics and collapsibility, as well as differences in the neurochemical control of breathing.

The findings are published in the  Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

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