Why Women Are at Risk for This Disease, Too

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Why Women Are at Risk for This Disease, TooWhen you think of sleep apnea, what springs to mind? For most people, doctors included, it would be overweight men snoring in bed. However new research from Europe shows that women have much higher rates of this common breathing issue than we might have thought. And it can be quite serious.

Sleep apnea is mostly considered a disorder that men suffer. But, in a study published in the “European Respiratory Journal,” researchers found that women who were obese and/or had high blood pressure were more likely to experience it.

PLUS: Two ways to cure sleep apnea.

Having “obstructive sleep apnea” means that when you sleep, you have pauses in your breathing of which you’re usually unaware. The length and regularity of these pauses will show how serious the condition is. The only sure method of diagnosing it lies with a sleep clinic appointment. Sleep apnea increases with age, and is overall more prevalent in men than in women.

The new research turned the focus to women to try and assess how frequent it was, and what risk factors contributed to the condition. It included 400 women from a random sample of 10,000 women between the ages of 20 and 70. A questionnaire and sleep exam followed.

A surprising 50% of the women studied had diagnosable sleep apnea. Half! And there were clear indications of who faced the highest risk. There were links between age, obesity, and hypertension: 80% of women with high blood pressure and 84% of obese women suffered from sleep apnea. So it should remain ignored no longer.

Severe sleep apnea, which is very dangerous to the body, was seen in nearly one-third of obese women aged 55-70. The researchers reported that this was all a very surprising finding, and completely eviscerates the notion that sleep apnea is a male problem.

Keep watch for certain symptoms that might suggest sleep apnea. These include excessive daytime sleepiness, very loud snoring, any signs (noticed by another person) that your breathing stops in the night, waking up abruptly, feeling short of breath, a morning headache, trouble staying asleep, trouble paying attention during the day, and waking up with a sore throat or dry mouth.

If you have too many of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor. Being deprived of oxygen for multiple periods in the night can have lasting negative effects, as you might imagine.