Sleep apnoea proved to cause major heart problems in women

The night-time breathing disturbance which is known as sleep apnoea can significantly boost a woman’s risk for heart problems, and even result in their death, but there was no similarly boosted effect for men, a new study finds.

close up woman having chest pain breast pain

The study wasn’t designed to prove cause and effect. However, it was found that women with moderate to severe sleep apnoea had more than a 30% higher risk of heart problems than women without sleep apnoea. The study found no significant link between sleep apnoea and any kind of heart problems in men although other studies have done.

The researchers also found that, compared to women without sleep apnoea, women with this dangerous disorder had higher blood levels of troponin, a chemical signal of early heart damage.

The findings suggest that older women may be at greater risk for sleep apnoea-related heart disease than men, and all the experts have agreed that the findings are a wake-up call to spot and treat sleep apnoea in women as early as possible.

Obstructive sleep apnoea is a common sleep disorder characterized by heavy snoring, airway blockage during sleep and daytime sleepiness, but today it can be easily treated without prolonged medical check ups, by simply using medically approved oral appliances. These are available from specialist companies that will supply you direct with no prescription needed.

While sleep apnoea is often thought of as a disease most common in men, these results highlight the importance of recognizing sleep apnoea symptoms in women, particularly in those who are post-menopause, in whom the incidence of sleep apnoea increases,” he said.

Medical experts advise that women who report symptoms of sleep apnoea that include snoring, gasping at night, bed partner’s observation of ‘stopping breathing,’ morning headaches, non-refreshing sleep or daytime sleepiness should immediately take steps to control and prevent this. They can do this by making use of an oral appliance or mouthpiece to wear at night – and preferably one that is medically approved and custom fits so is specially designed for the task.

Being overweight will increase the likelihood of sleep apnoea occurring, so some accompanying weight loss, and an avoidance of alcohol in the evening will assist greatly.

If sleep apnoea is allowed to develop, extremely serious cases may require CPAP treatment, using an overnight supply of oxygen through a facemask.

The link between sleep disordered breathing and stroke only came to light in the 1990s. Sleep apnoea is commonly found in individuals after experiencing a stroke. Between 1996 and 2010 over 20 different studies showed a clear association between stroke and SDB.

More recent findings uncovered that obstructive sleep apnoea is found within 50% of stroke sufferers. Furthermore, having obstructive sleep apnoea will definitely increase the risk of stroke, dependent on other associated factors, including smoking, obesity and diabetes.

Dr. Sean Pinney is the Director of Advanced Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplant Program at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. He believes that these new findings should “help us more fully understand the mechanisms underlying heart failure.” The fact that women’s hearts seem more affected by sleep apnoea is “very compelling,” Pinney added.

The study was published this month in the journal Circulation. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute supported the research, along with a further grant from the American Heart Association.

John Redfern