SINGAPORE - One in three Singaporeans suffers from moderate to severe sleep apnoea , and one in 10 suffers from severe sleep apnoea , a study has found.
People with the sleep disorder, known as obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), stop breathing repeatedly in their sleep because of a complete or partial blocking in their airway.
This leads to low oxygen levels, which causes symptoms such as fatigue, intellectual impairment and headaches upon waking.
The study, by Jurong Health Services, also showed that despite its prevalence, the condition is often under-diagnosed. Up to 90 per cent of moderate to severe sleep apnoea subjects in the study were previously undiagnosed.
Chinese and Malays were also found to have higher rates of moderate to severe OSA, with their estimated population prevalence hitting 32.1 per cent and 33.8 per cent respectively.
The study was published in the international journal Respirology in March. Its principal investigator, Dr Adeline Tan, noted that obesity is one of the risk factors for sleep apnoea .
"Interestingly, the study showed that the Chinese have high OSA rates among the three major ethnic groups even though they have the lowest obesity rates," said Dr Tan, a consultant in respiratory medicine at the Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.
She added that previous studies in the West also found that the Chinese appear to be more at risk of the condition.
Dr Tan also said the high prevalence of the disorder among Singaporeans is worrying, noting that there is a sizeable proportion of the population who are suffering from severe sleep apnoea and unaware of it.
She said: "This could be due to low awareness of OSA. The public needs to know the signs of OSA so that they or their loved ones know when to seek medical help".
Sleep apnoea can be evaluated at primary care providers such as polyclinics and general practitioners, and cases can be referred to sleep specialists for further evaluation.