By Rob Goodier

(Reuters Health) – Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may affect as many as 37% of adults in North, Central and South America, according to a review of epidemiological studies presented June 9 at Sleep 2019, the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in San Antonio, Texas.

The finding was no surprise to the review’s senior author, Dr. Adam Benjafield of ResMed, a manufacturer of medical breathing devices in San Diego, California. In an email to Reuters Health, he pointed to the rising rate of obesity, a risk factor in OSA, and recent changes in scoring rules from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).

“This research highlights that there is a large burden of disease that may not be widely appreciated and speaks to the need to leverage new technology and efficient clinical pathways to diagnose and treat these patients,” Dr. Benjafield said.

The prevalence of OSA has not been definitively assessed, and this research may be a first attempt to stitch together findings from published data. Dr. Benjafield and colleagues interviewed the authors of existing studies and created an algorithm to match countries in the Americas that do not have epidemiological studies to those that do.

Based on AASM 2012 criteria and using “a somewhat conservative approach,” the team estimated that 170 million adults in the 40 countries of the Americas may suffer from OSA.

As many as 81 million adults in the hemisphere may have moderate to severe OSA, representing nearly 18% of the adult population. The United States, Brazil and Colombia have the highest numbers of OSA diagnoses.

“This is an important study as the prevalence of OSA in many countries is not known,” said Dr. James Rowley of Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, who was not involved in the research.

“Determining the prevalence of OSA requires the performance of sleep studies in a large representative group of the population. This can be time and labor consuming preventing accurate estimation of disease prevalence,” added Rowley, who is president of the AASM Foundation.

The findings are based on a subset of worldwide data that showed nearly 1 billion people, or one in seven, have OSA. ResMed representatives presented those results at the American Thoracic Society’s annual meeting in 2018.

“Given the high burden of co-morbidities associated with OSA, including excessive daytime sleepiness and cardiovascular disease, this study indicates that OSA is a significant public health burden across the Americas. Physicians and health care leaders will need to take data into account when planning health care programs that focus on obesity and cardiovascular health,” Dr. Rowley said.

SOURCE: Sleep 2019 conference, June 9, 2019.