Sleep apnea is far more common in men, but new research suggests that it may cause serious damage to the body’s regulatory system without causing other more expected symptoms. This means that the damage from this dangerous condition may have a higher mortality rate than expected, and more women may unknowingly have sleep apnea.
Checking for Subtle Heart Damage
Several studies have already shown that women exhibit different sleep apnea symptoms than men. One of the important “red flags” for sleep apnea, elevated blood pressure, may not show up in women with sleep apnea. Women also tend to have a lower number of apneic events–times when their breathing stops during sleeping–but may still experience symptoms. They may also tend to show different symptoms than men, such as more of a tendency toward depression and anxiety. As a result, women may be mistakenly diagnosed with other conditions and not receive the sleep apnea treatment they need.
To explore how serious this potential misdiagnosis may be, researchers tested the magnitude of sleep apnea’s impact on women’s autonomic system, which regulates the body’s response to adverse stimuli.
People recently diagnosed with sleep apnea, but not treated, were asked to perform three tasks that stimulate their autonomic response– the Valsalva maneuver, breathing out hard while the mouth is closed; a hand-grip challenge, squeezing with their hand, and a cold pressor challenge, putting their foot in cold water–to show how significantly women’s responses were changed.
The results showed that all sleep apnea sufferers had their responses significantly impaired, and that women’s responses may have been worse. Researchers said that this pointed to a central injury to the autonomic system in sleep apnea sufferers, and that women’s worsened response may have put them at increased risk of further tissue damage and impairment of function.
Diagnosis and Treatment Are Key
The good news is that sleep apnea treatment is effective at counteracting the dangers of the condition. However, it’s important for women to first get a good diagnosis of their condition. Women should talk to their doctors about sleep apnea and get a sleep test to determine whether they have the condition. Doctors also need to be aware of the different distribution of symptoms exhibited by women so they can give quality recommendations.
Once diagnosed, women need to make sure they are getting a sleep apnea treatment that they can stick with. For women who have difficulty with CPAP, oral appliance therapy is a comfortable and convenient alternative.
To learn more about sleep apnea treatment, please contact the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center in Omaha today for an appointment.