Risk Factors

The Takeaway

  • The major risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea are obesity, a family history of snoring or apnea, and being male.

Adult obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common condition. One frequently cited study suggests that 4% of middle-aged men and 2% of middle-aged women in the United States have OSA.1 However, this is a conservative estimate, and the number is likely much higher.

Several factors can increase the risk of developing OSA. Some are hereditary; others are the result of age and/or lifestyle. Do any of these risk factors apply to you?

  • Obesity: approximately two-thirds of people with OSA are overweight or obese
  • Family history of OSA or snoring
  • Small lower jaw and certain other facial configurations
  • Male gender
  • Large neck circumference
  • Large tonsils
  • Alcohol consumption at bedtime
  • Post-menopausal (for women)
  • Hypothyroidism (low levels of thyroid hormone)
  • Acromegaly (high levels of growth hormone)

Risk Factors & Age (00:37)
Dr. Atul Malhotra discusses risk factors of apnea and how they vary with age.


  1. Young T, Palta M, Dempsey J, Skatrud J, Weber S, Badr S. The occurrence of sleep-disordered breathing among middle-aged adults. N Engl J Med 1993;328:1230-5.

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This content was last reviewed on February 10, 2011