Researchers are reporting a high prevalence of sleep apnea in a large population of African-Americans but note that the majority, nearly 95 percent, were undiagnosed and untreated. Sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and other chronic health disorders. The study underscores the need to improve sleep apnea screening and diagnosis in this population, which has been underrepresented in sleep apnea research, they say.
The study used data from 852 participants in the Jackson Heart Study, the largest study of cardiovascular disease in African-Americans. Researchers explored sleep apnea predictors—including habitual snoring, higher body mass index, and larger neck size—and estimated the proportion of undiagnosed cases. The researchers found a high prevalence of sleep apnea among this large sample of African-American men and women. Although about 24 percent had moderate or severe sleep apnea, only 5 percent of these had been diagnosed by a doctor. The article, partly funded by NHLBI, appears in the journal Sleep, a publication of the Sleep Research Society.
"These findings in the Jackson Heart Study reveal that sleep apnea is underdiagnosed and a potential threat to the health and safety of African-Americans," said Michael Twery, Ph.D., director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at NHLBI. "Further studies are needed to develop the tools and systems required to facilitate diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea in African-Americans and other communities."