Sleep apnea is a far more common problem now than it was when it was first described sixty years ago because more people today are overweight or obese.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a serious health problem that affects over 20 million Americans with over 38,000 deaths every year from cardiovascular problems that are due to OSA.
Researchers have focused on men primarily, since overweight males were the first to be diagnosed, but recently they have found that women develop the syndrome almost as often as men.
For every eight men, one woman is diagnosed with sleep apnea. The actual ratio is more like one woman for every two men.
So, why aren’t women diagnosed as often as they should be?
Sleep apnea symptoms in women are not the classic OSA symptoms found in obese men, such as loud snoring or sensations of gasping or choking that rouse you from sleep.
Here are the more common OSA symptoms found in women:
- Women have more problems with insomnia than men and that is one of the symptoms of sleep apnea. Women have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.
- Fatigue is a chief complaint. Women are tired because their sleep is disrupted.
- Women seek a doctor for what appears to be depression, and may very well be depressed, because of their chronic lack of energy.
- Daytime sleepiness is common.
- Snoring may be softer and not as apparent, making the diagnosis more difficult.
- The awakenings with body jerks may be interpreted as restless leg syndrome.
- Waking up with a headache is also a common symptom.
- Many women complain of having a dry throat in the morning because their mouth is open much of the time as they try to breathe.
Physicians are becoming more aware of the magnitude of the problem in women, and it’s important for you be aware of these seemingly minor symptoms that can have a drastic affect on your health and overall wellbeing.
Nightly shut-eye is no joke, and quality sleep is essential for living your life to the fullest.
Statistics about sleep apnea that you should know:
Untreated sleep apnea patients have three times the chance of having a heart attack and four times the chance of having a stroke than people whose sleep is normal.
Nearly half of patients with high blood pressure have sleep apnea. And people who suffer from sleep apnea are six times more likely to die in a traffic accident because of daytime drowsiness. Diabetes is also more common in OSA patients.
The risk of developing sleep apnea increases as women age and go through menopause.
What is obstructive sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition in which you stop breathing while asleep. The long pauses between breaths are actually periods of time when you have ceased breathing. This can happen dozens or even hundreds of times a night.
Eventually you will restart breathing with a gasp or snort or a jerk of your body as your oxygen levels in your bloodstream drop and your body demands air. This interferes with sleep, preventing sound sleep and leaving you tired and drowsy the next day.
What causes OSA?
When you fall asleep, your muscles relax, including the muscles in the back of your throat. The throat narrows as the walls of the pharynx droop inward.
In most people this is not a problem. But in people with thick necks or with large tonsils and in obese people or people whose throat muscles simply are more lax than normal, the narrowing is enough to block the airway at times during sleep.
What can you do about it?
If you think you or someone you love might have sleep apnea, it is time to do something about it. The condition can be treated and each patient needs an individual evaluation and treatment plan.
First, take our Berlin Diagnostic Quiz to determine your risk for sleep apnea. Depending on your score, schedule an appointment with our Board Certified sleep specialists at eos sleep. We are experts in snoring and sleep apnea and we have clinics around the country.
Sleep better. Live Better. You deserve it.
Read more about the epidemiology of adult obstructive sleep apnea here. Other sources: