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Sleep Apnea Diagnoses Are on the Rise

March 03, 2020

For years now, health professionals have been spreading the word: Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder, and is on the rise, affecting millions of Americans.

Those warnings bear out in the data: An estimated 22 to 29 million Americans—about 12 percent of the adult population—suffer from sleep apnea, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. That’s up from estimates of three to seven percent as recently as 2008. One study from nonprofit organization FAIR Health showed an 850 percent increase of sleep apnea healthcare claims across the U.S. from 2014 to 2017.

The problem is particularly prevalent among minorities. Almost one in four African-Americans may suffer from moderate to severe sleep apnea, Reuters reported. Although studies have shown several demographic trends in sleep apnea sufferers—including higher prevalence with African-Americans and with males—it can affect just about anyone.

Attention Boost for Sleep Apnea Diagnosis

The steep rise in sleep apnea sufferers—and correspondingly lax levels of diagnosis and treatment—traces back decades, but the issue has been getting a much-needed attention boost more recently, as high-profile athletes have shared their own struggles with the disorder.

Houston Astros pitcher Josh James publicly shared his sleep apnea diagnosis, the health struggles that led to it, and the CPAP treatment plan that followed.

New York City Mets first baseman Dominic Smith did the same, telling The New York Times in early 2019, “I swear I was just suffocating.”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen has been vocal about his sleep apnea, too—and about how important his diagnosis was to his career. “It’s a big deal. If I wouldn’t have gotten diagnosed, there is no chance I’d be sitting here … the highest paid center. I wouldn’t even be in the league anymore. I would have fizzled out after probably my third year. It saved my career.”

Various Causes of Sleep Apnea

Like many of the around 90 distinct sleep disorders, causes of sleep apnea range from things we can control—like alcohol use, smoking and excess weight—to ones we can’t, like genetic predisposition and general muscle atrophy (including throat muscles) that can come with advancing age.

For some, solving sleep issues can be as simple as changing habits. For others, sleep disorder diagnosis and intervention are the best way forward.

Undiagnosed Sleep Sufferers

Millions of sleep apnea sufferers don’t even know that they’re suffering from the condition. The American Sleep Apnea Association estimates that, across the U.S., 80 percent of people with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea remain undiagnosed. In a recent study, nearly 95 percent of African-American sleep apnea sufferers were undiagnosed and untreated.

A message that people who are vocal about their sleep apnea like high-profile athletes such as James, Smith, and Jensen, are helping to get across: If you’re struggling with sleep, seeking medical help can be the first step toward finding the right treatment, restful sleep and better health.

If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from sleep apnea, an at-home sleep test can be an easy, convenient way to find out. Lunella allows consumers to take a sleep apnea test from the comfort of their own home and receive a proper data-driven diagnosis from a board-certified sleep physician and a prescription for treatment, if necessary.

This blog post contains general information about medical conditions and potential treatments. It is not medical advice. If you have any medical questions, please consult your doctor.

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