Is it just your imagination or are there rashes of sleep apnea diagnoses cropping up all over the place?

Is sleep apnea the new “in” disease or do tens of millions of Americans really have it?

You probably know at least five people who’ve been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea.

Perhaps you’ve also noticed a new “sleep center” facility in your neighborhood and are wondering, “What’s UP with all this?”

Why It Seems Everyone Is Getting Diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Increased awareness. If you have not been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, but know someone who has, this is enough to increase your awareness.

It’s akin to the phenomenon of noticing that everyone is driving a particular model of car – only after you’ve purchased that car!

Increased awareness by the medical community. Medicine is not finite. Doctors and researchers are always learning something new.

A new discovery does not mean a “fad” or “in” disease just to make money.

Illusion of Sleep Apnea Being a New Disease

“Sleep apnea has been around for a very long time, but wasn’t given its official name until the late 20th century,” says J. Mark Anderson, MD, DABFM, of Executive Medicine of Texas and who is board certified in family medicine.

What OSA used to be regarded as:

• “Prior to sleep apnea being widely recognized, people who died of sleep apnea were often just assumed that they died in their sleep of natural causes, or if elderly, of old age,” says Dr. Anderson.

“His snoring rattled the windows.” Dr. Anderson says, “Most people who snore, a symptom of sleep apnea, are often undiagnosed sufferers of sleep apnea.”

“Her snoring was mixed with snorts and gasps.”

• “She’s always been such a sleepyhead.”

• “It’s stress; it’ll fatigue you and give you headaches.”

• “He’s just overworked; too much overtime, not enough vacation time.”

• “Of course she needs 12 hours of sleep a day; she has a three-year-old, a two-year-old and a six-month-old.”

Dr. Anderson explains, “While sleep apnea is underdiagnosed, the number of reported cases are on the rise.

“Perhaps this is due to a number of famous people dying of the condition,” such as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

The symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea have always been around. Other symptoms include irritability and trouble concentrating, not to mention falling asleep easily when immobile or inactive.

Just because the cause of these symptoms for some patients has been discovered doesn’t mean that OSA was created for profit.

Some naysayers will point out that sleep centers are cropping up everywhere and are run by doctors for profit.

  • Well gee, who should run a sleep center, an auto mechanic?
  • A florist?
  • Don’t you think that a specialized medical center should be run by a doctor?

As for the profit, medical centers are businesses, just like dental and veterinary centers are businesses.

Just like the guy you go to for a car repair wants your money. Profit does not mean fad or fraud.

Though a lab sleep study can run up to $3,000, this does not invalidate the existence of obstructive sleep apnea.

A sleep study will not miss events of stopped or disordered breathing.

Otherwise, that’s like saying cancer is a fad disease because treatment is so expensive. Or that root canals aren’t necessary because they’re so pricey.

Medicine Continues to Evolve

Obstructive sleep apnea was identified around 1980. That makes its identification, not existence, relatively new. Newly identified and classified should not invalidate prior existence.

“Considerable progress has been made over the last several decades in our understanding of the pathophysiology of both central and obstructive sleep apnea.”  – American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine (Dec. 2005)

You can bet that years from now there will be an identification of a new medical condition that’s been around for ages.

It’s just that today, doctors and researchers have not made that particular discovery.

Increase in Sleep Apnea Diagnoses: Reasons

• Increased awareness, pamphlets, campaigns, etc.

• More sleep labs and home sleep study equipment available

• Dr. Anderson points out, “The cases of sleep apnea are on the rise mostly due to the change in body composition across the country.


“Obesity is at an all time high, causing a rise also in the cases of sleep apnea. The two are connected because fat deposition around the upper airway can cause the obstruction that leads to sleep apnea.”

Have you heard of the “sitting disease”? This, too, has been brandished as a fad disease for profit. Gee, perhaps doctors are in cohoots with the treadmill desk companies?

Really, do you actually believe that all the diseases that can possibly affect people should have been identified 100 years ago?

Look at smoking. There was a time when smoking was deemed safe. We now know the truth.

But the truth was just as much truth a hundred years ago when some doctors were recommending that harried patients smoke to calm their nerves.

Obesity was once deemed a status symbol rather than a health hazard.

But as time marches on, doctors and researchers gain new knowledge. This is what’s happening with sleep apnea.

“Although OSA is a relatively common medical condition, it is believed that more than 85% of patients with clinically significant OSA have never been diagnosed,” says a report in The Ochsner Journal (fall 2009).

So if you think everybody and his brother has sleep apnea, they probably do.

Obstructive sleep apnea remains as one of the most misdiagnosed and underdiagnosed medical conditions.

Dr. Anderson is coauthor of the award-winning book, “Stay Young: 10 Proven Steps to Ultimate Health,” and host of the nationally syndicated Staying Young Show which goes to podcast as Staying Young Show 2.0.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  


­Top image: ©Lorra Garrick
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