Study Shows Obstructive Sleep Apnea Affects Half of Adult Women

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Researchers have discovered that at least half of adult women suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). For decades, healthcare professionals believed that males were much more likely than females to have the disorder. As a woman who's also a sleep apnea patient, I no longer consider myself part of the minority.

Scientists from Umea and Uppsala Universities, both in Sweden, maintain that sleep apnea is common to both men and women, according to Medical News Today. They published their results in the European Respiratory Journal.

OSA is one type of sleep apnea. This potentially serious disorder causes breathing to stop and start. The obstructive variety is the most common type, the Mayo Clinic reports. Typical treatments include using a machine to keep the patient's airway open or a special mouthpiece that pushes the jaw forward during sleep. However, some patients need surgery to remove tissue from or change the shape of their nose, mouth, or throat.

Healthcare experts first described sleep apnea in 1965. It affects as many as 18 million Americans,10 million of whom are undiagnosed, according to YourLungHealth.org. The condition has been linked to high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes.

In OSA patients, breathing either stops or becomes very shallow during sleep. Pauses lasting 10 to 20 seconds or even longer can occur 20 to 30 or more times in an hour, MedlinePlus says. Patients are often drowsy throughout the day.

The Swedish researchers used a random sample of 10,000 women age 20 to 70 and collected data on 400 of them. The scientists noted a proportionate connection between the disorder and blood pressure, age, and body weight.

The scientists found no link between daytime sleepiness and the risk of sleep apnea. Fourteen percent of subjects at least 55 years old had severe symptoms. Of those who were at least 50, the figure was 31 percent.

Overall, 50 percent of women between 20 and 70 had OSA. In one out of five, the condition was moderate. Six percent had severe symptoms.

After overnight sleep studies a few years ago, I was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. Of the eight patients tested, I was the only female. Otherwise, I fit two important risk factors: I was overweight and had a short, broad neck.

Although I didn't stop breathing at any point, my respiration was very shallow, with nearly 100 interruptions. This condition is called hypopnea. Having it means that when I need outpatient anesthesia, the procedure usually must be performed in a hospital.

Researchers hope that knowing that obstructive sleep apnea affects half of adult women will lead to more screening of both sexes. They also point out that businesses could save millions of dollars in productivity by finding and treating more employees with the disorder.

Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.

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