Sleep apnea risk factors vary, and include smoking, high blood pressure and obesity, but a new study conducted by the researchers at Wayne State University School of Medicine reveal some insight as to the role race plays in the risk of developing sleep apnea symptoms.

The records of a total of 512 patients that were observed at the Detroit Receiving Hospital Sleep Disorders Center were reviewed for the study, which was led by professor James Rowley, PhD, a professor and director of Wayne State Medical’s sleep disorder center. The researchers found that African-American men under the age of 40 and between the ages of 50 and 59 were at risk for more severe symptoms of sleep apnea than counterparts of other races and the same age groups.

While the exact reasons for the severity of symptoms being worse in African-American males has yet to be determined, two popular schools of thought are possible explanations. It is possible that the anatomic differences between races that affect the way the upper airways open and close, or that the neurochemical control of breathing may differ between races.

Some say that the difference may not be genetic at all, but rather environmental factors are to blame. Last year at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Boston, two difference presentations discussed the reasons why one ethnicity may experience more severe symptoms. One study showed that the amount and quality of sleep varies across racial and ethnic lines, while the second study showed that foreign-born Americans are less likely to have sleep apnea than those born inside the United States.

Ramie Tritt, M.D., President, Atlanta ENT