Are you having trouble sleeping? It may be more than just restlessness. Sleep apnea is a growing health issue, causing excessive daytime sleepiness and other symptoms that can prove deadly. This condition is usually considered a disorder that affects mostly men, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
What does this mean?
Although men are typical candidates for sleep apnea, there has been a rise in the number of women who are diagnosed. In 2016-2017, women accounted for 35% of sleep apnea claims. Unfortunately, clinicians tend to overlook sleep apnea symptoms in women.
Another reason sleep apnea may go undiagnosed in women is because they don’t have the stereotypical symptoms. They may discuss a lack of sleep with their physician, but the initial diagnosis may be something unrelated. Sleep apnea in women is often misdiagnosed as anemia, fibromyalgia, hypochondria, hypothyroidism, insomnia, obesity, or fatigue from overwork.
Common sleep apnea symptoms in women
One of the main reasons sleep apnea symptoms in women go undetected is because it affects women differently. For instance, some women do not snore or have difficulty sleeping, which are all commonalities within the disorder. Instead, sleep apnea affects the body where it will look like something completely different. A few undetected symptoms could be:
- Headaches in the morning
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dry mouth in the morning
- Restless leg syndrome
- Mood swings
- High blood pressure
- Nighttime sweats
- Increased libido
Clinicians have also noted an increase in sleep apnea occurring in women who are pre-menopausal or going through menopause. Symptoms may include mood swings, hot flashes, insomnia, and sleep-disordered breathing.
Additionally, sleeping problems associated with sleep apnea in women frequently have anxiety or depression tied to them. In general, post-menopausal women are less satisfied with their sleep, and as many as 61% report insomnia symptoms. Snoring has also been found to be more frequent and severe in post-menopausal women. Lifestyle choices and build can also increase the likelihood or severity of sleep apnea; A few of those risks include smoking, pregnancy, alcohol use, narrow air passages, and nasal congestion as a result of allergies.
Risk factors for sleep apnea in women
There are several risk factors associated with sleep apnea in women, including having a higher risk of cancer than men. A study by the European Respiratory Journal suggests that women diagnosed with cancer may show a strong link to being OSA prone.
Additional risk factors include a family history of sleep apnea, which increases the likelihood of developing the symptoms. Asthma may also be a factor that could become problematic over time.
Complications of sleep apnea
Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that worsens when there are other complications to consider. Some of these complications include:
- Cardiovascular problems: severe sleep apnea can result in coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. Cardiovascular problems also contribute to an increased likelihood of heart disease and high blood pressure.
- Abnormal heart rhythms: abnormal heart rhythms or arrhythmias can lower blood pressure, which could cause sudden death if untreated.
- Eye conditions: in 2015, the American Optometric Association found a connection between eye complications and sleep apnea, including glaucoma.
What to do about it?
Talking to your doctor and asking the right questions can assist in finding out what to do. Here are a few:
- Do I need a sleep study?
- What do my study results mean?
- What are all the treatment options available to me?
- How can I make my CPAP machine more comfortable?
Research suggests that weight loss contributes to helping ease symptoms of sleep apnea, but it may not be as effective for everyone. One of the benefits of weight loss is that it can significantly reduce or eliminate the need for additional OSA therapy.
Typical treatment for sleep apnea
Right now, CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure therapy) is the most commonly recommended treatment for moderate or severe sleep apnea. New research has also indicated that women regularly stick with CPAP because it works. There are also oral appliances used as a first-line treatment that are available to treat sleep apnea.
If you feel you are experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea and have been misdiagnosed by your physician, going to a specialist can help achieve a correct diagnosis. Knowing the signs and symptoms, understanding the ramifications of a misdiagnosis, and seeking treatment will assist in getting the care you need.
Don’t wait for the symptoms to increase or ignore them, thinking it could be something else. Yes, this is a serious disorder, but you can live and manage with sleep apnea with the right diagnosis and treatment. By working with your physician, better sleep is within your reach.
Aaron McCann has been working in the CPAP industry for nearly five years researching and learning about the latest and greatest in CPAP therapy and equipment. Aaron is committed to helping the CPAP community achieve better sleep and a better quality of life!