August 16, 2012
By Patricia Nicholson
A new study found that the number of women affected by sleep apnea may be significantly higher than thought. The results suggest that half of women may meet the criteria for sleep apnea, and almost six per cent may have severe sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which a person’s airway is repeatedly blocked during sleep, interrupting breathing. Background information in the study notes that it is considered a “man’s disease” because it is thought to affect more men than women.
Researchers based at Umea University in Sweden studied a sample of 400 Swedish women ages 20 to 70 who underwent sleep testing. They then calculated the results to reflect the general population. They found that 50 per cent of Swedish women had at least mild sleep apnea, and 5.9 per cent had severe sleep apnea.
Age, blood pressure and body mass index (BMI) were linked with sleep apnea. While 24 per cent of women under 45 met the diagnostic criteria for sleep apnea, that number rose to 75 per cent for women ages 55 to 70. Severe sleep apnea affected 14 per cent of women ages 55 to 70.
Among obese women, 84 per cent had at least mild sleep apnea, and 19 per cent had severe sleep apnea. In women with high blood pressure, 80 per cent had at least mild cases of sleep apnea, and 14 per cent had severe cases.
In women, sleep apnea was not linked to daytime sleepiness, which is considered a common symptom in men.
These results suggest that the prevalence of sleep apnea in women may be higher than thought, and that women may have different symptoms than men.Jump to top page