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Published on November 12, 2012

Not Your Father’s Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea – the sleeping disorder that entails abnormal pauses in breathing – has traditionally been seen as a men’s issue. But a new study shows that sleep apnea doesn’t discriminate among the sexes.

Swedish researchers determined that half of the women they studied had at least some degree of sleep apnea. Half! For women who are obese or suffer from hypertension, the numbers zoom even higher – four out of five women in this category had apnea. Now, before everyone goes rushing off to a sleep center all at once, it’s important to point out that just six percent of the women studied had what was termed “severe sleep apnea.”

But it seems obvious that sleep apnea is a lot more common in women than previously thought. Apnea, like most sleep disorders, is generally believed to be under-reported. According to previous estimates, three to seven percent of Americans – about 20 million people – suffer from sleep apnea.

Apnea is a problem for several reasons. People who suffer from sleep apnea often snore, which is bothersome for sleep partners. They also, because of the disrupted nature of their sleep, are usually tired during the day. And there’s been a link made between apnea and sexual dysfunction in both men and women. In extreme cases, it can become dangerous – ya know, stopping breathing is generally considered to be bad for you – and complications can include cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Pregnant women, who are more prone to obesity issues and hypertension, face greater consequences if they develop sleep apnea. Specifically, there is a significantly increased risk of their child being admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit at birth.

Men and women have different sleep patterns, and consequently their bodies react differently to apnea and other sleep disorders. So symptoms can be different and treatments might need to be different.

For medical professionals, that means they need to pay more attention to apnea in women. And for women who have contributing factors, it means they need to consider whether they have apnea. In particular, women who are obese or suffer from hypertension should talk to their doctor about their sleep.

For more information about women and sleep, visit Crozer-Keystone’s website at http://sleep.crozerkeystone.org. Crozer-Keystone offers a multidisciplinary approach to the identification and treatment of all types of sleep disorders. CKHS also offers skilled care for pediatric sleep disorders through the Crozer-Keystone Pediatric Sleep Center at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. To make an appointment, visit our website or call 1-888-SLEEP-03 (1-888-753-3703).

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