Why Women are at Higher Risk of Developing Sleep Apnea

man trying to cover his ears from a snoring woman

For a long time, the stereotypical sleep apnea sufferer has been an older, overweight man. However, recent studies indicate that an increasing number of women, who are a range of ages and sizes, are developing some form obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) or breathing interruption while they sleep.

Concerningly, their failure to fit the stereotype means that many healthy, fit young women aren’t being correctly diagnosed, sometimes leaving them suffering from tiredness, fatigue, headaches and even depression that could otherwise be prevented.

Why are women failing to be diagnosed?

The main reason lies in the fact that the typical warning signs of the condition simply don’t manifest in women. For example, a thick neck suggests a probability of sleep apnea. This is because it means the sufferer is more likely to have excess soft tissue at the back of their throat, which collapses during sleep and blocks the airway, causing OSA.

As women generally have slimmer necks, sleep apnea tends to be a possibility that is overlooked, despite the fact that narrow necks and slimmer jaws often indicate a naturally small airway that can easily become blocked at night.

As many as half of women have been affected by obstructive sleep apnea

A 2013 study by UCLA found that as many as 50% of women between the ages of 20 and 70 have experienced some degree of interruption to their sleep at night as a result of obstructive sleep apnea¹.

Not all women experience the typical symptoms of OSA

Another reason that women are less likely to be diagnosed with sleep apnea is due to how they describe the symptoms that they experience, which are largely different to men.

The UCLA study found that women with sleep apnea are far more likely to be affected in the areas of the brain that control decision-making and mood. This makes perfect sense when you consider that women mostly report symptoms that include anxiety, depression and fatigue rather than the stereotypical signs of OSA like snoring and waking up gasping for air. As such, sleep apnea in women is commonly misdiagnosed as conditions such as depression, hypochondria and hypertension.

The risks of misdiagnosis

Diagnosing OSA correctly in women is crucial for their health and wellbeing. This is because, aside from fatigue and brain fog, sleep apnea can also cause an assortment of serious health problems such as high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat and an increased risk of stroke.

Obtaining early and accurate diagnosis of OSA is essential if it is to be treated successfully.

Treatment for OSA

Thankfully, many women with obstructive sleep apnea find that oral appliance therapy – devices worn to adjust the position of the tongue and teeth to keep the airway open – are successful in treating their OSA, eliminating the need for an uncomfortable CPAP mask.

Are you fed up with fatigue and are concerned that you might be suffering from sleep apnea, or you have any other concerns about OSA, Dr. Wright and the team here at Eagle Gate Dental will be happy to assist you. We are committed to improving the health and happiness of our patients and welcome any opportunity to discuss your oral health concerns. Please contact and make an appointment at our Salt Lake City offices today.

Source: European Respiratory Journal