By Charles Kravitz, DDS in Women’s Health
 

WOMEN ARE LESS LIKELY TO BE DIAGNOSED FOR SLEEP APNEA

Women with sleep apnea are less likely to be diagnosed compared to men. In studies of patients registering for evaluation for sleep apnea, the ratio of men to women has sometimes been extremely lopsided, with 8 or 9 men diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) for each woman found to have OSA. However, we know from studies in the general population that the actual ratio is likely to be closer to 2 or 3 men with OSA for each woman who has the condition.

Women make up about 45 percent of sleep study referrals and most sleep studies are still done to screen for sleep apnea.

WHY ARE WOMEN LESS LIKELY TO BE DIAGNOSED FOR SLEEP APNEA?

First, there is an unfortunate predefined notion of the make-up of a sleep apnea patient. The stereotype is a middle-age, overweight or obese male. Physicians may not be thinking of this OSA diagnosis when the patient is female. Second, women may present with slightly different symptoms than the “classic” symptoms of snoring, witnessed breathing pauses at night and excessive sleepiness during the day.

Instead, women may present with fatigue, insomnia, disrupted sleep, chronic fatigue and depression morning headaches, mood disturbances or other symptoms that may suggest reasons other than OSA for their symptoms. Because these symptoms are not specific for OSA, women may be misdiagnosed and are less likely to be referred to a sleep study for further evaluation. Another problem is that women with sleep apnea have more subtle breathing disturbances and are more likely to have REM-related apneas, so they may be tougher to diagnose.

WOMAN SNORING 5-25-15

SOME DIFFERENCES IN SYMPTOMS BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN

Sleep apnea in females is related to age, obesity and hypertension but not to daytime sleepiness. 

The “classic” symptoms of OSA are snoring, witnessed apneas and daytime sleepiness, but women may not experience these things. Weight gain, depression, waking up gasping for breath, hypertension, and dry throat in the morning may be tip-offs for women that they may need an evaluation.e

 

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