When we think about the typical sleep apnea patient, we often picture a heavyset man over forty years old with a thick neck and an earth-rattling snore. And while this image often does fit the profile of a sleep apnea patient, it by no means represents a complete picture of the demographic of sleep apnea sufferers.
Contrary to popular belief, sleep apnea patients come in all shapes, sizes, races, genders, and can even have symptoms atypical of those common for sleep apnea. For instance, not all sleep apnea sufferers snore, many are not obese or even overweight, and not all of them are male.
Here we discuss the prevalence of sleep apnea in women and why they are often an under-diagnosed and under-served population suffering from this sleep disorder.
Women with Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep-related breathing disorder in which either the throat muscles collapse, the tongue falls back into the airway, or enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids impede air flow. When your airway becomes cutoff, the brain has to wake itself to signal the respiratory system to kick back into gear. This often leads to breathing resuming with loud gasps, snorts, or body jerks that may wake you from your slumber and disrupt your sleep.
When you wake multiple times throughout the night, your body and mind don’t get the rest they need to function, leaving you tired and drained during the daytime.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, it is estimated that as many as 26% of adults aged 30-70 years have obstructive sleep apnea.
Men are twice as likely to have sleep apnea than women. However, men are often diagnosed with sleep apnea almost 8 times more often than women.
If women are half as likely to have OSA as men but are diagnosed and treated for it only an eighth of the time, something must be wrong. Where does the problem lie? In patient reporting, doctor evaluation, varying symptoms, or a combination of all of the above?
Underdiagnosis and misdiagnosis for women with sleep apnea
When it comes to reporting sleep troubles women are much more likely to discuss their sleep problems with their primary care providers. Unfortunately, because of a combination of factors, women with sleep apnea are often diagnosed and treated for other sleep disorders or get treated for comorbid conditions that are typical for sleep apnea patients.
“It is commonly known within the sleep field that women with OSA present differently than men,” Says Angie Randazzo, Behavioral Sleep Medicine Specialist at St. Lukes Sleep Medicine & Research Center, “They often don’t have the stereotypical body type and don’t always say they are sleepy. Many will say they are fatigued, leading clinicians to think they have insomnia versus OSA.”
Some of the reasons women aren’t diagnosed with sleep apnea may be:
How can women get properly diagnosed for sleep apnea?
Fortunately, doctors are receiving better education on the prevalence of sleep apnea in women and recognizing the increased risk factors they have for developing OSA. However, with proper education for patients, women themselves can better recognize the risk factors for developing OSA, and avoid improper diagnosis.
“In addition to menopausal status and drug failure, clinicians need to be aware of the tendency to diagnose based on gender stereotypes, ” Says Dr. Randazzo, “How women answer questions may mislead the clinician to assume the problem is insomnia because they report how they feel when they are trying to get to sleep makes it sound like insomnia instead of sleep apnea.”
Here are some symptoms and risk factors typical of women with sleep apnea.
If you believe that your sleep troubles may be due to sleep apnea rather than another sleep disorder, contact a sleep specialist and ask if a sleep study is right for you.
If you live in Alaska and would like to schedule a sleep study, contact The Alaska Sleep Clinic and receive a free 10-minute phone consultation with a sleep educator. Our clinic is owned, operated, and mostly staffed by women who can help provide top quality, comprehensive care for our female patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.
From: Alaska Sleep Clinic