Anthropometric and craniofacial sexual dimorphism in obstructive sleep apnea patients: is there male–female phenotypical convergence?

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Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is more common in men than women. Body size is greater in males (sexual dimorphism), but large body habitus is associated with OSA for both genders. We speculated that male–female phenotypical convergence (reduced sexual dimorphism via identical phenotype acquisition) occurs with OSA and tested hypotheses: (1) phenotypical features pathogenic for OSA differ between OSA and healthy subjects irrespective of gender; and (2) such characteristics exhibit phenotypical convergence. Utilizing an existing database, we calculated male–female (group average) ratios for eight anthropometric and 33 surface cephalometric variables from 104 Caucasian OSA patients [72 males; apnea–hypopnea index (events h−1): males: 42.3 ± 24.7 versus females: 42.6 ± 26.1 (P > 0.9)] and 85 Caucasian, healthy, non-OSA, community volunteers (36 males). Log-transformed data were analysed using a general linear model with post-hoc unpaired t-tests and significance at P < 0.0012 (Bonferroni multiple-comparison correction). OSA patients were older (56.9 ± 14.4 versus 38.0 ± 13.8 years), but there were no within-group gender-based age differences. All anthropometric variables (except height), plus cranial base width, mandibular breadth and retromandibular width diagonal were larger in gender-matched OSA versus healthy comparisons; thus satisfying hypothesis (1). Male–female ratios were mostly >1.0 across groups, but with no significant group × gender interactions no variable satisfied hypothesis (2). Thus, in this exploratory study, OSA patients had gender-common phenotypical differences to healthy subjects, but sexual dimorphism was preserved. Lack of complete phenotypical convergence may indicate gender-based critical phenotype-level attainment for OSA and/or gender-based OSA prevalence arises from factors other than those in this study.

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