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Thick Neck, Big Problems

Thick Neck, Big Problems

You may have heard that the larger your waist circumference, the higher the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, but have you thought about your neck circumference? Unless you’ve bought dress shirts that use neck measurements in their sizing, probably not, but an increased neck circumference can lead to some negative – and frustrating – outcomes like snoring and sleep apnea.

A thicker neck – larger than 17 inches for men and 15.5 inches for women – usually means a narrower airway, especially when lying down. That’s because there is likely more fat tissue at the base of the tongue and lining the airway. With a partially obstructed path, the air has a harder time passing through the throat and to the lungs, and the squeezing creates what you hear as snoring or wheezing.

If the airway completely closes off, you could have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a breathing disorder that causes you to repeatedly stop and start breathing while you sleep. Unchecked OSA is associated with dangerous daytime drowsiness and serious health conditions including cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and depression.

Recent studies also show an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in those with larger neck circumference, and others have suggested that measuring the neck is an effective screening tool, possibly replacing waist circumference. Typically a larger neck is an indication of excess weight elsewhere, so in most cases, weight loss will help to decrease the size of the neck.

To check your neck circumference at home, all you need is a plastic or paper measuring tape – it’s quick and easy! If you are concerned about your neck size, or snoring or sleep apnea, meet with a sleep medicine provider to get it checked out and to discuss further testing or treatment options.