OSA is found in at least 4 percent of men and 2 percent of women in the middle-aged workforce, according to the first major United States population-based study of the condition conducted about 15 years ago (Young et al., 1993). Those prevalence figures are based on a cutoff apnea-hypopnea index of 5 or higher, plus a requirement for daytime sleepiness. The prevalence is higher, 9 percent of women and 24 percent of men, with the same apnea-hypopnea index cutoff (Box 3-1), but without the daytime sleepiness requirement. In view of the epidemic increase of obesity (an important determinant of OSA) in recent years, these numbers might underestimate the current prevalence. However, other more recent population-based studies support these prevalence figures (Bixler et al., 1998, 2001).
OSA prevalence appears to increase with age. Adults 65 to 90 years of age had a threefold higher prevalence rate than middle-aged adults (Ancoli-Israel et al., 1991), while the prevalence in children has been reported to be around 2 percent (Ali et al., 1993; Rosen et al., 2003), with higher estimates occurring in ethnic minorities (Gislason and Benediktsdottir, 1995; Redline et al., 1999; Rosen et al., 2003). Underdiagnosis of OSA is common, with between 10 and 20 percent of OSA being diagnosed in adults (Young et al., 1997b). Less than 1 percent of older adults in primary care are referred for polysomnography (Haponik, 1992), although these numbers might have increased in recent years due to increased awareness of the disease. Similarly, children’s OSA often goes undiagnosed too, partly because the implications of snoring are not often recognized by pediatricians. Although OSA can occur in children of any age, it is most common at preschool ages, a time coincident with tonsils and adenoids being largest relative to the underlying airway (Jeans et al., 1981).
OSA causes chronic elevation in daytime blood pressure (Young et al., 2002a; Young and Javaheri, 2005). The strongest evidence for a rise in systemic hypertension comes from several large, well-designed epidemiological studies, both cross-sectional (Young et al., 1997a; Nieto et al., 2000; Bixler et al., 2000; Duran et al., 2001) and prospective (Peppard et al., 2000). The Wisconsin Sleep Cohort study, a prospective study, tracked adults with sleep-disordered breathing for at least 4 years to determine new onset hypertension and other outcomes. The hypertensive effect was independent of obesity, age, gender, and other confounding factors. Controlling for obesity is especially important because it is a risk factor for hypertension as well as for OSA.
A causal association between OSA and hypertension is supported by evidence of a dose-response relationship; the higher the apnea-hypopnea index, the greater the increase in blood pressure (Peppard et al., 2000; Nieto