Millions of people may be unaware they are suffering from a sleep disorder that increases risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, research suggests.
Obstructive sleep apnoea causes a person’s breathing to stop and start while sleeping.
A French study of 20,000 adults found one in five were highly likely to have the condition, but only 3.5 per cent were being treated.
Dr Pauline Balagny, of the University of Paris-Cité, said: “We know that OSA is a major health hazard but if patients are diagnosed with the condition, they can be given treatments and advice to mitigate the risks.
“Our study suggests that OSA is common, but the majority of those affected do not know they have the condition. Our findings are in line with research in other countries which suggest that OSA is becoming more common.”
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Participants were assessed using questionnaires that asked about symptoms including heavy snoring and daytime tiredness.
The condition was found to be more common among men, older people, smokers, those who were less physically active, and people with heart disease or depression. However, female sufferers were at higher risk of going undiagnosed.
Treatments include lifestyle changes such as losing weight and reducing alcohol intake. Some patients need a device called a CPAP machine that pumps air into a mask worn at night.
Professor Winfried Randerath, head of the European Respiratory Society’s Assembly on sleep disordered breathing, who was not involved in the research, said many people with OSA were unaware that snoring and sleepiness are common symptoms.
He added: “We need to raise awareness of OSA because once people are diagnosed, they can be given treatment and advice to help lower their risk of other serious conditions such as stroke, heart disease and diabetes.
“Although OSA is more common in men, this study indicates that we also need to get better at spotting the condition in women.”
The findings were published in the journal ERJ Open Research.
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