For years the medical community has understood obstructive sleep apnea to be more predominant in males than females. However, when a recent Swedish report released a medical finding showing the frequency of sleep apnea in women is actually higher than once assumed, many were surprised by the data. The women’s sleep study was published in the European Respiratory Journal in 2012.
The research team working on the study randomly sampled 400 women out of 10,000, aged 20 to 70. The results quantified that 50% of women scored within at least the mild range of sleep apnea! The report also indicated that within the group of women with sleep apnea, 20% percent had moderate sleep apnea and 6% had severe sleep apnea. The research further concluded that the age bracket distribution was not equal, nor was the distribution within the varying weight ranges.
Evidence from the report showed that sleep apnea was related to age, obesity and hypertension but not to daytime sleepiness. From the overall sampling, 84% of the obese women, between the ages of 50-70, had some form of sleep apnea. In addition, 80% of the women with high blood pressure, between the ages of 55 and 70, were also found to have sleep apnea — either mild, moderate or severe.
With snoring as the number one sign for sleep apnea, this led to another related thought. Does the problem in acknowledging women as sleep apnea sufferers lie partially within the female population? Try asking a female if she possibly snores at night. You might as well ask about her weight, too. Very few women openly admit to snoring and that’s a huge problem. It’s like admitting to passing gas or even worse — admitting to your real age.
We know that sleep apnea sufferers experience repeated pauses in breathing during sleep, causing multiple awakenings. What many of us are still unaware of is that the pauses in breath lower the saturation of oxygen in your blood. This can result in high blood pressure and an increased risk of many heart related conditions. In addition, sleep awakenings cause acute surges in blood pressure and heart rate, further increasing stress on the heart.
In people with sleep apnea, the cardiac rest achieved in normal and proper sleep is not possible. This is the most alarming component of sleep apnea, since it can lead to complications such as hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, dementia, high blood pressure, depression, weight gain, and many other health issues.
If you have a loved one who experiences any sleep apnea symptoms such as snoring, gasping for air during sleep, daytime fatigue, or has already been diagnosed with sleep apnea but is possibly CPAP intolerant, please call a doctor immediately. Within a few minutes you could be on your way to helping a friend or family member and possibly even saving a life.
The reality is, women have been overlooked as obstructive sleep apnea sufferers for too long. It’s time to address the problem and seek help.