We now all know that sleep apnoea, which stops your breathing frequently during the night, is linked with serious health conditions, but it may be even more dangerous for women’s hearts than for men’s, according to a major new study in the journal Circulation.
Obstructive sleep apnoea, or OSA, is characterized by frequent stopping of breathing during sleep and often followed by choking and gasping to recover. It is linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, osteoporosis, increased mortality, and possibly earlier onset of cognitive decline and dementia.
Some of the leading experts in this field have spoken out further on this matter as they want to stress that both men and women can have this condition, and snoring is not necessarily a symptom, although it often is.
Dr. John Swartzberg of UC Berkeley said: “Don’t think sleep apnoea is just a man’s problem because men tend to snore loudly and more often. Snoring is a warning sign, but you can have sleep apnoea without snoring or very little snoring.” Swartzberg says this was a large and well-done study.
“These were women who tended to be older, their average age was 63,” he explained. “What they found was that women with sleep apnoea had high rates of complications, such as high blood pressure, heart failure, heart enlargement, and even premature death.” Recently it has been further linked with Breast Cancer and aggressive melanoma when left untreated.
The study followed more than 1,500 initially healthy people (average age 63) for 14 years and found that in women, but not in men, the condition was independently associated with a marker for heart damage in the blood called troponin T, as well as with heart failure, heart enlargement (ventricular hypertrophy), and premature death.
Snoring and Sleep apnoea is often regarded as a man’s problem, but women also have high rates, especially those who are obese. The new findings highlight the importance of screening women and getting early treatment for them as well as men.
Snoring by itself is usually a less critical matter, though it can be a source of strife between bed partners or roommates, but when associated with OSA it is a different matter altogether.
Estimates vary widely, but it’s likely that sleep apnoea affects about 10 per cent of all adults. Rates have been rising steadily over the past 20 years, largely because of the obesity epidemic. The biggest worry is that the great majority of people with sleep apnoea do not know they have it and continue without treatment whilst their health steadily worsens as a result.
OSA is certainly more common in men, especially black and Asian men, but this recent research has found it is surprisingly prevalent among women, too, especially after menopause. Being overweight greatly increases the risk, as a result of excess soft tissue in the throat. Though not everyone who snores has sleep apnoea, loud snorers are most likely to have it.
Increasing age, family history and certain anatomical abnormalities also increase the risk. In addition, heavy drinking, smoking and sedatives can promote the development and danger of OSA.
If you think that you have sleep apnoea, doing the following may help.
- If you’re overweight, lose weight.
- Limit or avoid alcohol, especially in the evening.
- Avoid sedating medications.
- Avoid heavy meals in the evening.
- If you smoke, stop.
- Try sleeping on your side, not on your back. This helps keep your tongue from falling back and obstructing the airway.
- Elevate the head of your bed about six inches using a foam wedge.
In the meantime you can prevent the development of OSA by obtaining a custom-made mandibular advancement device made by a specialist NHS Approved company, such as SleepPro. The Custom fitted mouthpiece is easy to wear and much less expensive than any Dentist made product, and it keeps the airway open while you sleep by pulling the tongue and jaw (mandible) forward.