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Three Reasons Doctors Often Miss Sleep Apnea in Women

When you think of sleep apnea, you think of a middle-aged overweight guy with a thick neck, rattling the rafters at night – and so do most GPs. But few women with sleep apnea look like this, and some don’t even snore, or only snore lightly. In spite of this, sleep apnea in women can often be more life-threatening than in men.
A new study on sleep apnea reveals there could be some hidden dangers particularly for women who have the condition; in which breathing is interrupted during sleep. Women with sleep apnea may appear healthy, but they have subtle symptoms so their sleep problem is often misdiagnosed…”We now know that sleep apnea is a precursor to bigger health issues. And for women in particular, the results could be deadly.” says Dr. Paul Macey, lead researcher on a study by University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Nursing, as quoted in Medical news Today.“…women are more likely to develop symptoms of heart disease, as well as other consequences of poor adaptation to daily physical tasks. Early detection and treatment may be needed to protect against damage to the brain and other organs.” Read the whole article here.

Women with Sleep Apnea don’t Always Snore

Not only do they appear different than the stereotype of the sleep apnea sufferer, but their symptoms can be different, which makes it difficult for a non-specialized doctor to catch the underlying problem.
According to an article in the Alaska Sleep Clinic‘s Blog, womens’ “Snoring is usually much lighter, [their] breathing problems during sleep more subtle,[and] women tend to have lower apnea/hypopnea indexes (AHI). Apnea events are usually shorter in duration and frequency than men’s are.” This means they don’t stop breathing as often as men with sleep apnea do – which doesn’t make the condition any less dangerous.
Also, women with sleep apnea come in to their GP with different problems than men. According to the same article, they are often bothered by:

  • “Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Mood disturbances
  • Lack of energy
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Depression”

Because the doctor doesn’t recognize the underlying problem, women are often prescribed antidepressants or medicine for insomnia, which can actually worsen the problem.

Men are less likely to Notice Problems in their Partners’ Sleep

One of the big reasons that men get treated for sleep apnea is that their loved one has been driven crazy by their snoring, or worried by their gasping for breath. men missing this in their partner isn’t so much a case of male insensitivity, as it is that most men sleep more deeply than women, so they aren’t bothered as much by snoring, and women with sleep apnea sometimes hardly snore at all.
To read more about women’s sleep apnea symptoms, read the article.

Women often put themselves last

Nicole Chenet, DDS, of Pittsburgh’s Apnea Dental Center says in the Dental Sleep Apnea Corner article: “Women often seem to put everyone else in the family first and themselves last,” Chenet notes that husbands are often diagnosed and treated for OSA before their wives. “If [women] suspect they have OSA they should immediately check with a physician.”

So How can Women Get Diagnosed and Treated?

Have you or a loved one been waking up often during the night, or in the mornings without feeling rested, or with headaches? Do you snore? Could you stand to lose a few pounds? Do you have fibromyalgia or hyperthyroidism? Go to this article in Alaska Sleep Clinic for a detailed list of symptoms and risk factors, including both pregnancy and menopause.
According to an article in SomnoMed, “The best way to avoid being misdiagnosed is to:
Take responsibility for your own health…
Set an appointment with a sleep physician. A sleep physician can order a sleep test for you and is trained to accurately read your results and prescribe a solution.
Explore your treatment options. Although CPAP (continuous positive aireway pressure) machines are commonly prescribed, if you have mild-to-moderate obstructive sleep apnea, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) which sets standards for sleep physicians, released new guidelines recommending that sleep physicians consider prescription of an oral device, rather than no treatment, for adult patients with OSA who are intolerant of CPAP therapy or prefer alternate therapy.”
Women can often be treated effectively with those oral devices, called mandibular advancement devices, and looking a little like a retainer or a sports mouth guard.
If you live in the greater Portland area and suspect you might have sleep apnea, don’t get dismissed, overlooked or misdiagnosed. Call Dr Valachi at the Dental Sleep Apnea Clinic, an expert at diagnosing and treating sleep apnea.

Stop Snoring, Sleep Better, and Live Longer!

The Dental Sleep Apnea Clinic can help you find relief from your sleep apnea.  Contact us today to schedule your consultation.

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