Women Seeing More Sleep Apnea Diagnoses

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder that has long been believed to be more prevalent in men than in women. The National Institute for Health (NIH) now states that women are more susceptible than previously thought. Because OSA has been thought to be less frequent in women, the diagnoses among them have been fewer. It is now more common than in the past for symptoms to be recognized in females. 

One reason more men may have been diagnosed with OSA in the past is that when people are younger, it appears more in men. However, as people age, the difference in diagnoses rates between the sexes decreases.

OSA is a condition in and of itself but it also may exacerbate certain other medical issues. While women have traditionally been diagnosed less often than men, the impact on their bodies can be just as severe.

According to the American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA), twenty-two million Americans suffer from the condition.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when breathing stops repeatedly while a person is sleeping. The upper airway becomes blocked and reduces or completely stops the flow of air. The severity of each case is determined by the number of times breathing stops during a monitored sleep test. Sometimes, breathing may stop hundreds of times during a night. It is not uncommon for a breathing stoppage to last sixty seconds or more. Usually, the person with OSA does not remember that these breathing lapses took place.

The impact of sleep apnea on other medical conditions

Among the health issues to which obstructive sleep apnea contributes are glaucoma, diabetes, obesity and stroke. Heart attack, depression, cognitive and behavioral disorders are also strongly connected with OSA. In elderly people, OSA symptoms, especially cognitive and behavioral changes, often resemble dementia. 

In addition to the impact of OSA on a person’s body, the presence of constant drowsiness during the day creates heightened risk in everyday activities, such as driving. OSA is an important concern in occupations that require operating heavy machinery. The issue has been recognized in trucking, construction and other industries in which the results of a drowsy operator could cause injuries and even death.

Risk Factors

Aside from age, unhealthy lifestyle choices contribute to the probability of OSA. Excessive alcohol consumption relaxes the muscles in the mouth and throat. That can lead to the closing of the upper airway during sleep. Smoking hampers proper breathing but it also leads to inflammation of the upper airway. It may also tamper with the way the brain sends commands regarding sleep and proper breathing.

The impact of OSA on obesity is also more commonly acknowledged. According to ASAA, lack of quality sleep can contribute to obesity as much as lack of exercise and overeating.

A history of OSA in someone’s family is a risk factor but healthy lifestyle choices can reduce probability of the disease. 

Living With Sleep Apnea

Concentrating on a healthy lifestyle with the absence of smoking and heavy drinking while increasing exercise are effective in pursuing a positive life after OSA diagnosis.

Additionally, mechanical devices that promote good sleep may also be prescribed. A common sleep aid device is the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). A CPAP is a device worn while sleeping to keep the airways open to improve consistent sleep. More research is being done to help correct the condition. In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), approved an implantable device designed to regulate sleep by stimulating the breathing process. The Remedē System stimulates a nerve located in the chest that is responsible for sending signals to the diaphragm to increase breathing.To learn more about sleep apnea and other sleep disorders, log on to vascularhealthclinics.org.