Women's Health

Sleep Apnea Affects Men, Women Equally

Women with sleep apnea face an increased risk for heart problems, just as men with this condition do. But just as for men, women who are treated with CPAP appear to bring their risk down.

Photo of woman asleep on the couch

That's the conclusion of Spanish researchers who looked at the sleep patterns of more than 1,100 women who had been sent to sleep clinics for suspected obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that causes brief interruptions of breathing during sleep. Although it primarily affects men, about 3 percent of middle-aged women also suffer from the disorder. Researchers say these women have a greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those without it.

"We have provided the first evidence that severe OSA is associated with cardiovascular mortality in women, and that CPAP treatment is associated with a decrease in mortality risk," says researcher Francisco Campos-Rodriguez, M.D., at Valme University Hospital in Seville, Spain.

Grouped by severity

Researchers categorized the women in the study based on the severity of their apnea. After following the women for more than seven years, about 4 percent of the participants had died from cardiovascular problems, and about 3 percent from other causes.

Deaths from heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems were more frequent in women who had apnea that was not treated, especially when it was severe. Those who were treated with a system called CPAP - continuous positive airway pressure -- had cardiovascular disease death rates similar to those without apnea.

The results were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Broader awareness

Linda Dahl, M.D., an ear, nose, and throat specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, says this study will likely change awareness among doctors and patients, because sleep apnea is often thought to be a man's problem.

"If the condition is suspected," she says, "evaluation is crucial and treatment is necessary if it is diagnosed.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Academy of Family Physicians - Sleep Apnea

American Sleep Apnea Association - I Have Sleep Apnea

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute - What Is Sleep Apnea?

March 2012

Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when your breathing is interrupted during sleep, sometimes for longer than 10 seconds. Your breathing typically stops because something is blocking your airway.

When you sleep, your body is completely relaxed-even the muscles that help you breathe. In people with sleep apnea, these relaxed muscles combine with a narrowed airway to interrupt breathing.

Some people have obstructive sleep apnea with no symptoms. Others find that they just don't feel rested after a night of sleep and feel sleepy during the day.

Snoring is one of the biggest symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. Other symptoms include:

  • Morning headache

  • Frequent falling asleep during the day

  • Easily irritated

  • Depression

  • Difficulty remembering things

If your partner hears symptoms of apnea episodes or your snoring is problematic, it's a good idea to visit your doctor to talk about your symptoms and ask about a sleep study.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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