Sleep apnea and women

August 28, 2012 3:03:33 PM PDT
Snoring and gasping for breath in the middle of the night are symptoms of sleep apnea. Many of us think of a snoring man when we think of the condition, but women are rapidly catching up.

Tiredness during the day, morning headaches, stopping breathing during sleep are all other symptoms of sleep apnea. A new study from Sweden finds that women are at risk as well as men.

Thirty year old Anna Joseph has asthma. When she awoke gasping for breath one night, she thought it was an asthma attack and went to the hospital.

"They told me have you ever noticed that you had sleep apnea, and I said what do you mean, and they said we're going to send you to a sleep study," joseph said.

The study showed she did have sleep apnea, which explained her gasping and other symptoms. The Scandinavian study found that sleep apnea is much more common in women that has been thought until recently.

"We used to think that there were 35 men with sleep apnea to every one woman. Over the years, we think it's more like two to one," Dr. Michael Thorpy, Montefiore Medical Center, said.

The reasons for the change are not clear, perhaps more men now reporting that their wives snore and stop breathing at night.

The study found that half of women in their twenties had sleep apnea, and that it was strongly linked to overweight and high blood pressure. One in three post-menopausal women had it, perhaps due to obesity and something else.

Spending a night in a sleep lab can diagnose sleep apnea. And sex hormones can play a role. It may be that the change in hormone levels at menopause makes some older women develop sleep apnea.

A "C Pap Machine" such as the one Anna uses has let her sleep restfully. She has more energy. Her earlier lack of energy may be a tipoff to the diagnosis.

"If it happens day after day and there's no easy explanation for why they're so tired, they certainly see a physician about that," Thorpy said.

One of the dangers of sleep apnea is falling asleep at the wheel of a car. In those cases, doctors consider the condition to be a medical emergency. The study looked at 10, 000 women and was reported in the European Respiratory Journal online.

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