Gender differences in sleep apnea: the role of neck circumference

Chest. 2003 May;123(5):1544-50. doi: 10.1378/chest.123.5.1544.


Study objectives: To determine whether differences in sleep apnea severity between men and women referred to a sleep clinic are related to the differences in neck circumference (NC).

Study design: Case series.

Setting: University hospital sleep disorders clinic.

Participants: A total of 3,942 patients (2,753 men and 1,189 women) referred to the sleep clinic.

Measurements and results: All patients underwent nocturnal polysomnography. NC was used as a surrogate measure of upper airway obesity. We found that sleep apnea, defined an the apnea/hypopnea index (AHI) > 10/h, was significantly more frequent (60% vs 32%, chi(2) < 0.0001) and severe (mean +/- SE, 25 +/- 26/h vs 12 +/- 19/h, p < 0.0001) in men than in women. Men had significantly larger NC than women, but the difference became much less pronounced when we normalized NC to body height (0.24 +/- 0.02 vs 0.23 +/- 0.03, p < 0.0001). Men had significantly higher AHI than women even after controlling for age, body mass index (BMI), and neck/height ratio (NHR); analysis of covariance showed that mean AHI was 24.4 +/- 0.4 in men vs 14.8 +/- 0.7 in women (p < 0.0001). This difference persisted even when we matched men and women for NHR and BMI. Finally, multiple regression analysis revealed the following: (1) NHR was the most significant predictor of AHI, accounting for 19% of the variability; and (2) the slope of AHI vs NHR was significantly higher in men than in women.

Conclusions: We conclude the following: (1) the frequency and severity of sleep apnea in the sleep clinic population is greater in men than women, and (2) factors other than NC, age, and BMI must contribute to these gender differences.

MeSH terms

  • Anthropometry
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck / pathology*
  • Polysomnography
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / pathology*
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / physiopathology