Imagine the typical person with sleep apnea.
Chances are, you just thought of a man. But studies show that almost one in two sleep apnea patients is a woman. How likely are women to have this disorder, and how often are they treated?
It is true that women are less prone to sleep apnea than men, but this does not mean that they are not at risk. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, at least 2% of women suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), compared to 4% of men. However, the rate of female diagnoses for the disorder is disproportionately low: about 1 woman per 2-3 men. So why are women so underrepresented? One reason is that sleep apnea is often portrayed as a man’s disorder. Historically, sleep apnea was considered an issue that primarily afflicted men and occurred rarely in women. In fact, studies from the 1970s and 1980s suggested a ratio of prevalence of 1 to 60. Research focused on male subjects and therefore produced a list of symptoms tailored to men.
Another side of the issue is that properly diagnosing women is simply more challenging. Women may present slightly different symptoms than the “classic” symptoms of snoring, witnessed breathing pauses at night, and excessive sleepiness during the day. Instead, women tend to present more ambiguous symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, morning headaches, and depression which can lead to misdiagnosis along the lines of anemia, depression, diabetes, hypertension, hypothyroidism, or hormonal changes during menopause. Furthermore, experts suspect that women are less likely to report relevant symptoms, such as snoring.
What are the risk factors and symptoms of sleep apnea in females?
One of the biggest risk factors is common to both sexes: obesity. Post-menopausal women are more than three times as likely to have sleep apnea. Pregnant women may also find themselves at higher risk.
Symptoms most often found in females include headaches or swollen feet upon awakening, snoring (though often more subtly than in men), fatigue and daytime sleepiness, insomnia, and frequent awakening during the night.
Studies have also shown that women are more susceptible to negative health effects resulting from sleep apnea. A study at UCLA found that the heart rate of women with obstructive sleep apnea was less likely to adjust during physical activity than that of men with OSA, which could indicate that females are more vulnerable to heart conditions. Other studies found women to be at higher risk of inflammation, hypertension, and dementia.
I am a woman; how can I diagnose and/or treat my sleep apnea?
If you think you are showing telltale symptoms, make sure to speak with your doctor about the possibility of having sleep apnea. Your doctor may prescribe a sleep study which should determine if you indeed have the condition.
Reach out to the sleep specialists at Chicago ENT and Chicago Sleep Center today to make sure you are the best rested version of yourself possible. (773) 296-5500.
Content with help from http://www.sleepdr.com/