Obstructive sleep apnoea in the general population: highly prevalent but minimal symptoms

Eur Respir J. 2016 Jan;47(1):194-202. doi: 10.1183/13993003.01148-2015. Epub 2015 Nov 5.


The aim was to assess the prevalence of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) as defined by an apnoea-hypopnea index (AHI) ≥15 in the middle-aged general population, and the interrelationship between OSA, sleep-related symptoms, sleepiness and vigilance.A general population sample of 40-65-year-old Icelanders was invited to participate in a study protocol that included a type 3 sleep study, questionnaire and a psychomotor vigilance test (PVT).Among the 415 subjects included in the study, 56.9% had no OSA (AHI <5), 24.1% had mild OSA (AHI 5-14.9), 12.5% had moderate OSA (AHI 15-29.9), 2.9% had severe OSA (AHI ≥30) and 3.6% were already diagnosed and receiving OSA treatment. However, no significant relationship was found between AHI and subjective sleepiness or clinical symptoms. A relationship with objective vigilance assessed by PVT was only found for those with AHI ≥30. Subjects already on OSA treatment and those accepting OSA treatment after participating in the study were more symptomatic and sleepier than others with similar OSA severity, as assessed by the AHI.In a middle-aged general population, approximately one in five subjects had moderate-to-severe OSA, but the majority of them were neither symptomatic nor sleepy and did not have impaired vigilance.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arousal*
  • Disorders of Excessive Somnolence / etiology
  • Disorders of Excessive Somnolence / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iceland / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polysomnography
  • Prevalence
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / complications
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / epidemiology*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Symptom Assessment