Many years ago, heart disease was considered a “man’s disease.” Since then, well-meaninged and largely successful public education campaigns improved cardiac illness awareness among women– as well as its profound effect on their health. Likewise, one of the most frequently-known sleep disorders, called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), isn’t just a “man’s disease” like you’ve always thought.
Yes, OSA inflicts just half as many women as it does men– but that doesn’t mean it’s a rare occurrence among women. In fact, roughly six percent of women suffer from this sleep condition. The general lack of understanding in the medical community regarding the effect of OSA on women is due to factors such as gender bias, and sex differences regarding the symptoms.
OSA is often characterized by continual occurrences of the throat shutting or becoming narrow enough to seriously restrict airflow, which ends up leading to serious fluctuations in the total amount of oxygen flowing through the blood. This can culminate in many brief sleep disruptions, not to mention poor sleep quality.
Untreated cases of OSA increase the risk for high blood pressure, as well as stroke and heart disease. They are also linked with a general lower quality of life and overall well-being. The primary symptoms usually involve loud snoring, perpetual episodes of gulping for air frequently seen by bed partners, constant daytime sleepiness, and waking up feeling un-refreshed.
Between the years of 1979 and 1988, many studies on the predominance of men OSA sufferers were placed in distinguished journals. This culminated in healthcare providers mainly screening males for OSA symptoms rather than both sexes, which led to the under-recognizing and eventual under-diagnosing of OSA in women.
On standard surveys, women who have OSA are often just as tired as men, but are more often found to complain about insomnia, prolonged sadness, and fatigue instead of other stereotypical symptoms of this condition. Women are also more likely to lack a bed partner’s honest report of witnessed snoring and long breathing pauses, with many of them coming to the clinic without loved ones or their relationship partner who can admit to being a viable witness.
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