Latest Research on Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Women

Obstructive Sleep Apnea, OSA for short, is often thought to be a men’s health problem. Research has now shown that in reality, it's women who face the real risks of sleep apnea.


About one third as many women as men have sleep apnea. They are not all overweight, more of them are in menopause than not, and a lot of them are under 50. Most of them are active, health aware, busy women who work hard to take care of themselves.

Undiagnosed Female OSA


Women with OSA experience different symptoms to men. This explains why the vast majority of women with OSA either remain undiagnosed or are diagnosed with another condition.


Sleep scientists have recently started to take notice of the correlation between gender differences and sleep apnea. Women with OSA, the scientists found, face particular risks to their long-term health.


How Common is OSA in Women?


To be clear, sleep apnea in women is common, and the gap between men and women is nowhere near as large as scientists first thought. Men may be 2 or 3 times more prone to sleep apnea than women, but the ratio narrows as women enter menopause, and can even reach 1:1.


It's estimated that 6% of women, from all age groups, experience severe to moderate OSA. A further 5% have a milder form of the condition. By the time they reach menopause, 20 percent of women are likely to develop sleep apnea, research has found.


Studies have also shown major increases in the frequency of sleep apnea in women and men over the past twenty years, with younger men and women seemingly at more risk than others.


Evidence of sleep apnea in 50% of women was also found in a population-based study of 400 women between 20 and 70 years of age. In this group, scientists noted severe sleep apnea in 14% of subjects aged between 55 to 70. That number rose to 30% for women in the same age group with a body mass index, (BMI) of 30 or more.



Findings concluded that about 1 in 4 women could be at risk of experiencing sleep apnea. But one of the most startling stats to come out of the study was that of all women with sleep apnea; an estimated 90% go undiagnosed.


OSA Symptoms and Risks in Women


These are the classic symptoms that women with sleep apnea complain about most:


Loud and frequent snoring

Snorting, choking, gasping sounds during sleep

Partners observing visible episodes of lapses in breathing

Frequent urge to visit the bathroom during the night

Sore throat, dry mouth, and headaches in the morning

Difficulty concentrating during the day

Feeling extremely tired during the day


Women with a high risk of sleep apnea, but also chronic snoring and severe daytime sleepiness, will find that these symptoms are common. But not all them. For example, it’s possible to experience OSA without frequent, loud snoring, or without episodes of interrupted breathing. Women with sleep apnea may present other symptoms which are less likely to be connected to OSA, both by them and their doctors. These include:


General Insomnia

Difficulty falling asleep

Trouble staying asleep

Restless sleep

Frequenly waking up

Restless leg syndrome

Uncomfortable tingling in legs

Strange dreams

Heartburn in the night

Increased irritability during the day

Regularly feeling overwhelmed

Anxiety and depression

A lack of energy


A tendency to be accident prone


All of these symptoms are worth a visit to your health professional. raise the specific topic of sleep apnea and talk to your doctor about the possibility of arranging a sleep apnea screening.


Treatment for Sleep Apnea


Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP therapy, is becoming the most common treatment for OSA, in both moderate and severe cases. And while many women are reluctant to undergo CPAP, they can experience a significant improvement in their apnea condition, their quality of sleep, and a reduction in the likelihood of contracting other health problems.


The latest research into the CPAP treatment indicates that women are more prone to stick with the treatment when they can count on strong support from their partners. This partner-support plays a huge role in allowing the female sleep apnea patient to reap the maximum benefits. Women with OSA who have been prescribed CPAP should talk to their partner, and to the people closest to them, and rally their support. If you know a woman who could benefit from CPAP in her fight against OSA, you should try to be her ally, and where possible, encourage and help her throughout the process.


There is good recent news about CPAP treatment for women, too. Besides easing the symptoms of OSA, CPAP can lead to a significant improvement in the quality of life, and the sexual satisfaction of women.


Other Treatments for OSA in Women


CPAP isn’t the only OSA treatment available. For women (and men) with sleep apnea, oral appliances have evolved to become the go-to treatment for moderate and mild conditions. They also work well with sufferers of severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea who prefer not to undergo the CPAP treatment.


These oral devices come in many different shapes and sizes, and it's recommended you work closely with your healthcare professional to find the best solution for your condition. Some devices can even be customised to provide a better and more comfortable fit. But that's not all. Latest studies have found that oral appliances are far more effective when used by a woman, than by a man.


Losing weight can also help women improve the quality of their nightly rest. Shedding a few pounds on its own won’t necessarily solve all of a woman's sleep apnea problems. But it can make a huge difference, and could lead to a big reduction, if not all-together eliminate, the need for further OSA therapy.

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