January 4, 2002 at 7:04 PM EST - Updated July 1 at 8:40 AM
CLEVELAND (AP) - Researchers have determined that people with round heads have a greater risk of sleep apnea and chronic snoring than those with thin faces.
"As the head gets relatively wider, the airway becomes relatively narrower from front to back," said Dr. Mark Hans, chairman of orthodontics at Case Western Reserve University School of Dentistry.
Apnea is an interruption of breathing usually caused by blockage of the airway in the back of the mouth. People with apnea typically snore loudly.
Hans and five other Case Western researchers compared head shapes of 60 snorers and 60 others who had no history of snoring. Using X-rays, they measured from teeth to esophagus, nose to nasal passage and cheek to jaw to create a "craniofacial risk index."
A researcher who was unaware of the patients' snoring history was able to predict sleep apnea problems three out of four times using the index.
Apnea causes daytime sleepiness, can lead to high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems. It affects about 12 million Americans.
If the craniofacial index proves useful, it could serve as a screening tool to determine if someone should undergo costly testing for sleep apnea, said Dr. Steven Feinsilver, a sleep specialist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y.
"What everyone is trying to figure out is predicting who has sleep apnea and who doesn't," Feinsilver said. "You can't take everyone who snores and bring them to the sleep lab. That's 40 percent of the population."
Fewer than 10 percent of people with sleep apnea are being treated, he said.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)