In has recently been reported that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia suffered from sleep apnea. With much coverage of his life and death, it is important to recognize the ubiquity of this potentially deadly sleep disorder.
Over 5% of the adult population has some degree of obstructive sleep apnea, which is characterized by repetitive pauses in breathing. Some estimates push the prevalence of sleep apnea to over 10%. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is usually caused by anatomic structures in the back of the throat. Mild OSA is defined by having over 5 events per hour. People with severe sleep apnea have over 30 events per hour.
In this week’s HuffPo article, Dr. Dan Kripke from Scripps Clinic Sleep Center discusses the death of Justice Scalia and opines on the significance of sleep apnea and his demise:
“Our research shows that 29% of men in this age group suffered from sleep apnea, as defined by at least five apneas per hour of sleep. Sleep apnea means cessations of breathing during sleep. The rate and likely severity of sleep apnea is elevated among men with obesity, and pictures of Justice Scalia show a massive double chin, one of the best predictors of sleep apnea. He also had hypertension, which is associated with sleep apnea. The altitude of the Cibola Creek Ranch is approximately 4,400 feet. Sleep apnea usually grows worse at higher altitudes because blood oxygen drops. It appears likely that Justice Scalia suffered from sleep apnea, but we do not know if he had been treated. No mention was made that he was seen to be using a treatment for sleep apnea when he died.”