Race Matters with Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea in African American men more likely to present severe symptoms

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Sleep apnea is a serious condition that requires treatment regardless of a person's age, sex or race. However, the severity of the disorder can vary among people with different backgrounds.

A recent study found that African American men were more likely to have more severe sleep apnea symptoms than white men.

The difference between white male patients and African American male patients existed even when other factors were taken into account.

It was not clear why this difference between the groups existed.

"Treat sleep apnea, call a doctor."

The study, led by Sukanya Pranathiageswaran, MPH, of the Sleep Disorders Center at Detroit Receiving Hospital, part of the Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, aimed to understand differences in sleep apnea based on race.

The researchers gathered data on 512 patients who had completed sleep studies between July 1996 and February 1999. Among the patients, 340 were African American and 172 were white.

The patients were all at least 18 years old and had an apnea-hypopnea index of at least 5. The apnea-hypopnea index is a measure of how many times a person stops breathing for at least 10 seconds while asleep. A score of 5 to 15 is generally diagnosed as mild sleep apnea while 15 to 30 is considered moderate, and more than 30 is considered severe.

The researchers compared the severity of the apnea-hypopnea index among both groups. They made adjustments to take into account differences in the patents' gender, age, weight and other illnesses.

The researchers found that the African American patients had a higher average apnea-hypopnea index than the white patients had.

The middle measurement of apnea-hypopnea index for the African American patients was 32.7 apneas or hypopneas per hour, compared to 22.4 among white patients.

More specifically within age groups, African American men under age 39 and between ages 50 and 59 had a higher apnea-hypopnea index than white men in those age groups.

The apnea-hypopnea index also varied according to the patients' age, sex and body mass index (BMI). BMI is a ratio of a person's height to weight, used to determine whether they are a healthy weight.

However, the difference between the African American male patients and the white male patients remained even after these factors were taken into account.

According to William Kohler, MD, the Medical Director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill, Florida, and a dailyRx expert, this study offers valuable information about risks for African-American males but little information about why that group may have higher risks for more severe sleep apnea.

"The report did show a clear difference between black males and white males," Dr. Kohler said. "However, they did not show a clear reason for why there is a difference. In general, genetic factors as well as lifestyle factors influence our health and illness. I think that's the important point."

Knowing that some groups are at higher risk for a condition can help in watching for potential symptoms, he added.

"We need to be aware and look for sleep apnea particularly in the black male population since they have a higher incidence of hypertension as well, which is also associated with sleep apnea," Dr. Kohler said.

The researchers did not find any differences in rates of deaths between the two groups in this study. Because this study was relatively short at three years, it may not have lasted long enough to provide sufficient information about risk of death related to sleep apnea.

The study was published April 15 in The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Funding was not provided by industry-affiliated groups, but additional funding information and disclosures were unavailable.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 15, 2013
Last Updated:
December 13, 2013