Sleep apnea can lead to more serious health conditions

Study shows common sleep disorder more dangerous for women

sleeping coupleContributed by Victoria Surdulescu, MD

There’s a common misperception that sleep apnea is a condition that only affects middle-age, overweight men. But the truth is anyone can suffer from this condition. And a new study from the UCLA School of Nursing says the long-term health consequences of sleep apnea may be even more harmful for women than men. The study found that women with obstructive sleep apnea—a condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep—had weaker autonomic responses. This is significant because autonomic responses control such functions as breathing, blood pressure, heart rate, and sweating. If left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea can lead to heart disease, constant fatigue, shortness of breath, and other serious issues.

Women often misdiagnosed
To make matters worse, women are much less likely to be diagnosed with sleep apnea than men because symptoms among women can be vague or associated, incorrectly, with other conditions (see chart below). We also know that women’s risk for sleep apnea increases as they transition through menopause. And post-menopausal women are up to three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea compared to premenopausal women.

Women are often diagnosed in error with one of the following conditions, rather than sleep apnea.

Anemia Cardiac or pulmonary illnesses
Depression Diabetes
Fatigue from overwork Fibromyalgia
Hypertension Menopausal changes

Women who are overweight or obese, or who have a history or fatigue, snoring or dry mouth upon awakening should see a sleep specialist:

Don’t let poor sleep affect your quality of life
Unfortunately, many women with sleep apnea put off seeing a doctor because they’re embarrassed about snoring or they don’t like the idea of having to wear a sleep mask. But the truth is sleep apnea is a medical condition that needs to be treated in order to live a healthy, long life. If you have questions about sleep apnea, please call (513) 475-UC4U to schedule an appointment with one of our sleep medicine specialists.

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