Mayo Clinic: Neck size one risk for sleep apnea; with shapewear, moderation is key


DEAR MAYO CLINIC: Recently, I was evaluated for sleep apnea. As part of the exam, my neck circumference was measured. Why is this important?

ANSWER: Having a neck circumference greater than 16 inches if you’re a woman, or greater than 17 inches if you’re a man, is one of numerous risk factors associated with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

OSA occurs when muscles at the back of the throat relax and temporarily restrict or block airflow during sleep. This may lead to disrupted sleep and daytime tiredness.


Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that occur during sleep apnea increase blood pressure and put a strain on the cardiovascular system, raising a person’s risk of developing problems such as high blood pressure (hypertension) and heart failure.

In most people, a neck size greater than 16 or 17 inches is a sign of excess fat in the neck area. This may contribute to crowding and narrowing of the breathing tube, making obstruction or blockage of the person’s airway during sleep all the more likely.

Doctors use neck circumference and other indicators to evaluate the overall risk of OSA. You may be asked about how you sleep, whether you snore and how you feel when you’re awake. You also may be assessed for other risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, habits such as smoking and drinking alcohol, and throat anatomy.

Your doctor may first recommend an overnight study at home that tests to see if there are periods when your oxygen is low. Depending on the results of that test, your doctor may decide it’s worthwhile for you to spend a night in a sleep lab or do a home sleep study to make a definitive diagnose. If it is OSA, then the doctor can determine its severity and assess treatment options. (Adapted from Mayo Clinic Health Letter) — Dr. Kannan Ramar, Center for Sleep Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.



I was considering wearing some shapewear under my outfit for an upcoming class reunion. Then I heard a report saying these garments can be risky. Is this true?

ANSWER: With shapewear — as with most things in life — moderation is key. While most people can’t imagine wearing something as restricting as an old-fashioned corset, the concept behind it continues, albeit with contemporary materials and in newer styles. Shapewear can target a particular area, such as the waist or thighs, or help contour the body from bust to knee.

The main issue with shapewear is simple discomfort. However, if you push yourself into sizes that are too small or wear them too long or too often, the discomfort may manifest in different ways. Here’s how:

Acid reflux: Wearing clothing that is tight around the waist can increase reflux and heartburn.

Bloating and gas: If you frequently experience these signs of irritable bowel syndrome, a food intolerance or other gastrointestinal issue, you may find that constricting clothing compounds the discomfort.

Thigh pain or numbness: Pressure on nerves that run to the thighs can cause a condition called meralgia paresthetica. Commonly caused by tight clothing, it causes tingling, numbness and burning pain in the outer thigh.

Varicose veins: Wearing tight clothing for long periods can worsen these swollen veins.

Rash or infection: Tight, synthetic fabric can trap moisture. The sweating caused by extended wear can cause skin irritation. Yeast and bacterial infections also are a possibility.

When sized correctly and used for limited periods, shapewear poses little risk. You may want to try on different types of shapewear in the store to make sure you’re comfortable and can move freely — and you’re able to manage using the restroom — when wearing them. (Adapted from Mayo Clinic Health Letter) — Dr. Stephanie Faubion, Women’s Health Clinic, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.

The MAYO CLINIC Q&A is an educational resource and doesn’t replace regular medical care. Email questions to MayoClinicQ& For more information, visit