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The Role of Genetics in Sleep Apnea

The Role of Genetics in Sleep Apnea

Many medical conditions “run in the family,” so to speak. Health challenges such as Alzheimer’s disease and cystic fibrosis are known to have genetic inheritance factors — meaning if a parent or grandparent was diagnosed with one of these conditions, you are more susceptible to it as well.

Even health conditions that have other contributing factors, such as heart disease and diabetes, may be more likely to occur if you have a genetic predisposition to the disease.

So is the same true of obstructive sleep apnea? Here’s what you should know.

Understanding the Difference Between Central and Obstructive Sleep Apnea

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Both central and obstructive sleep apnea cause interruptions to breathing during sleep, which will cause the individual with the condition to wake up throughout the night. While these constant interruptions to sleep will leave patients feeling fatigued no matter what, the way this happens differs based on the type of sleep apnea you have.

Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain doesn’t send the right signals to the muscles that control your body’s breathing process. This form of sleep apnea is more likely to occur as you age. While it is known that individuals who use opioids or who have suffered congestive heart failure are more likely to experience central sleep apnea, genetics are not believed to play a role.

Obstructive sleep apnea is when the throat muscles relax and collapse during sleep, blocking off the breathing passages and preventing oxygen from reaching the lungs. While there are many lifestyle factors associated with obstructive sleep apnea, research indicates that genetics does play a role.

Genetics and Obstructive Sleep Apnea


It is estimated that obstructive sleep apnea is about 40 percent attributable to genetic risk factors. This means that if your father was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, you are far more likely to develop this condition than someone with no family history of sleep apnea.

The main hereditary elements that are believed to play a role in sleep apnea risk include the distribution of body fat, your face structure, and how the brain interacts with the upper airway muscles. Having a thicker neck, large tongue, small lower jaws, or large tonsils are also hereditary traits that can narrow the airways and increase the likelihood of sleep apnea episodes.

In addition to a family history of obstructive sleep apnea, a genetic predisposition toward obesity could also increase your risk for this sleep disorder. While behavior and environment can also play a role in becoming overweight or obese, genetics are believed to play a significant role in this condition. Excess body fat increases the likelihood of your throat muscles collapsing during sleep — so if you have a family history of obesity, you should also be mindful of the potential sleep apnea risk.

Understanding and Mitigating Additional Sleep Apnea Risk Factors

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You can’t do anything about your family history. If you have a genetic predisposition to sleep apnea or physical features like a small lower jaw, there isn’t really much you can do about it. Similarly, risk factors such as aging, being male, or going through menopause (for women) are beyond your control. Other medical conditions, such as asthma and high blood pressure, can also increase the risk for obstructive sleep apnea.

However, like so many other health conditions, behavioral factors can play just as important of a role in whether you develop serious obstructive sleep apnea.

For example, using alcohol and sedatives, as well as smoking tobacco products, increases the risk for obstructive sleep apnea by relaxing the muscles and irritating the body’s breathing passages. Cutting out the use of these substances — particularly before going to bed — can lead to a notable improvement in sleep quality. On the other hand, because frequent nasal congestion can contribute to sleep apnea, your sleep quality might improve if you take nasal decongestants before bed.

As previously noted, obesity is one of the primary contributors to obstructive sleep apnea. Even if you are genetically predisposed to becoming overweight, you can take steps to manage your weight. Exercising regularly and eating a balanced, healthy diet with fewer processed, fatty foods will make it much easier to maintain a healthy weight. Of course, you should always consult with a medical professional before beginning a major change to your diet or exercise.

If you have experienced these or other risk factors, pay close attention to your sleep quality. Individuals with sleep apnea often suffer from morning headaches and dry mouth, as well as extreme fatigue that can interfere with work, driving, and other activities. Your spouse may also complain of loud snoring. Talk to your doctor to see if you need to undergo a sleep study, particularly if you have a family history of sleep apnea. They may prescribe a CPAP machine to manage the condition and put a stop to nighttime awakenings.

Get the CPAP Equipment You Need From Help Medical Supplies

While CPAP and BiPAP machines can go a long way in reducing the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, there is no denying that obtaining this medical equipment can present a financial challenge. This is especially true if you don’t have health insurance.

Help Medical Supplies aims to reduce the financial burden of obtaining sleep apnea equipment with discounted prices on a wide range of products, free shipping on orders over $89, and available interest-free financing available for purchases of $500 or more.

Regardless of your family history, good sleep is possible. By getting the CPAP equipment you need from Help Medical Supplies, you will improve your sleep quality — and as a result, the rest of your quality of life will improve, too.


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