More than one in four adult Canadians are at high risk to have sleep apnea

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More than one in four adult Canadians are at high risk to have sleep apnea

November 01, 2010 - Canadian Lung Association: Urges Canadians to find out if they are at risk for sleep apnea, a serious breathing disorder that could affect about 7 million in Canada

October 31, 2010, Vancouver, BC – Alarming new statistics show that twenty-six per cent of Canadian adults aged 18 years and older are estimated to be at high risk for having sleep apnea, according to a large national survey, and the Canadian Lung Association urges Canadians to find out if they are at risk.

Sleep apnea is a serious breathing disorder that causes sufferers to have dozens or hundreds of breathing pauses or “apneas” per night. The survey revealed that about 7 million Canadians either have sleep apnea or are at high risk for having sleep apnea.

“It is alarming that very few of these at-risk Canadians have been assessed for sleep apnea,” says Dr. John Fleetham, an advisor to the survey and chair of the Canadian Thoracic Society (CTS) Sleep Disordered Breathing Committee. The CTS is the medical arm of the Canadian Lung Association.

“While we have always assumed that most cases of sleep apnea have gone undetected, this is the first large-scale Canadian survey to give us some hard data on the scope of the problem,” said Brian Graham, another advisor for the survey and Chair of the Canadian Lung Association Chronic Disease Working Group.

The survey also found that only 5% of people at high risk for sleep apnea had been tested for the condition. “People need to be more aware of the symptoms for sleep apnea and those at high risk need to be tested. Family physicians need to be aware that a quarter of their patients may be at high risk for sleep apnea,” added Graham. “Canadians who have signs and symptoms of sleep apnea should talk to their doctors about getting tested.”

Sleep Apnea = repeated suffocation during sleep

With each sleep apnea episode, blood oxygen levels are reduced and sleep is disturbed as the sleeper must wake briefly to resume breathing. However, the sleeper typically does not become fully awake and usually has no recollection of the awakening. This cycle happens repeatedly throughout the night, interfering with the normal sleep pattern that is needed for adequate rest.

The strain on the body due to repeated periods of suffocation during sleep and the chronic sleep deprivation caused by repeated sleep disturbances has both physical and psychological consequences. People with untreated sleep apnea are more likely to have motor vehicle crashes, hypertension, heart attacks, irregular heart beat stroke, depression, impotence and diabetes. “Every day in Canada, car crashes are caused by drivers with sleep apnea falling asleep at the wheel.  Marriages have broken up and jobs have been lost, all for the lack of diagnosis and treatment,” says Dr. Fleetham.

Treatment is simple and effective

“Fortunately, there are very safe and effective treatments for sleep apnea that begin working immediately,” says Dr. Fleetham. The most common treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which works by delivering a steady flow of air through a special mask to keep airways open during sleep. “Unfortunately this treatment is only covered by the medical plans in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan; so many patients in other provinces with limited financial resources go untreated,” added Dr. Fleetham.

In some cases a special dental appliance can be worn during sleep to move the lower jaw forward which also keeps the airway open. Most people who receive this treatment report improved sleep and that their snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness go away.

Need for more testing

“Many areas of the country have significant waiting times for testing.” says Dr. Fleetham. The Canadian guidelines for the treatment of sleep apnea, developed by the Canadian Thoracic Society, state that waiting times should be no more than six months. People such as truck drivers, bus drivers, airline pilots and taxi drivers should be tested within two to four weeks because of the dangerous potential consequences of sleep apnea due to their occupations.

“These findings from the Public Health Agency of Canada underline and reinforce the importance of this kind of health surveillance. We now have some very important new evidence about the extent of the problem, thanks to these important findings,” said Heather Borquez, CEO and president and of the Canadian Lung Association. “While there is much work to do to increase awareness of sleep apnea and build more capacity for sleep apnea testing and treatment, the good news is that the syndrome is eminently treatable.”

About these findings

The Sleep Apnea Rapid Response Survey, a component of the Canadian Community Health Survey, was developed and funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada and conducted by Statistics Canada in 2009. The survey collected information from 8647 adults in all 10 provinces and included questions about risk factors and symptoms of sleep apnea, including: snoring, daytime tiredness, periods of stopping breathing during sleep observed by a bed partner, high blood pressure and being overweight or obese. Sleep apnea is more common in men and more common over age 50. Having three or more symptoms or risk factors puts one at high risk for sleep apnea. The study was presented at the 2010 Chest Conference in Vancouver, B.C. on October 31.

Learn more about sleep apnea visit
Learn more about the respiratory guidelines visit

About The Canadian Lung Association

Established in 1900, The Canadian Lung Association is one of Canada’s oldest and most respected health charities, and the leading national organization for science-based information, research, education, support programs, and advocacy on lung health issues.

About The Canadian Thoracic Society

The Canadian Thoracic Society (CTS) promotes lung health by supporting the respiratory community through leadership, collaboration, research, learning and advocacy, and promoting the best respiratory practices in Canada.

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For more information, or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Brian Graham, President & CEO
Lung Association of Saskatchewan

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Page Last Updated: 28/03/2018