How common is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)?

Phil Westbrook
Sleep Medicine

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is very common. Research has shown that about one in every 5 adults has enough sleep apnea to be considered abnormal. This makes OSA about twice as common as asthma. Most individuals with OSA have only mild disease when defined by the frequency of the abnormal breathing events during sleep, and most of them don't have daytime symptoms. About one in 20 adults has the Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome, which is OSA associated with excessive daytime sleepiness. That is a lot of people with OSA, about 23 million in the United States with at least mild disease, and 16 million with moderate to severe disease. So it is very likely you know someone with OSA, although they may not tell you. If you travel by plane, say on a Boeing 747 with 451 uncomfortable fellow passengers, you have a one in 25 chance of sitting next to one who has significant OSA. If that person is a male and is fat and a snorer, the chances that he has OSA are even higher. OSA is distributed in the population unequally. It is more common in males (24%) than females (9%), and in those who are obese. One out of every 10 habitual snorers has symptomatic OSA. Because OSA is strongly linked to obesity and age, and on average our population is growing older and fatter, OSA is becoming more common all the time.

You will probably see someone with OSA today. It might be your bed-partner.

Sleep apnea remains significantly underdiagnosed -- many snorers out there have no idea that they are suffering from this disorder. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 12 million adults have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea -- but there are likely millions more who have yet to be diagnosed.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of sleep apnea. It is a potentially serious medical condition that affects as many as 12 million Americans and is characterized by repeated pauses in breathing during sleep that can last 10 to 20 seconds or more. Although sleep apnea is a common disorder, approximately 75-80% of OSA cases remain undiagnosed. In fact, a survey of approximately 1,200 women found that more than half (52%) weren't aware that OSA exists.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.