Sleep apnea, especially obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is largely under diagnosed among women. Part of the cause of this under diagnosis is cultural perceptions of the relationship between snoring, sleep problems, and gender. Both snoring and sleep apnea are often portrayed as conditions that largely affect middle-aged men. With this perception in place, women suffering from sleep apnea may not spare a second thought about symptoms that they experience. Women also experience different sleep apnea symptoms than men, leading medical professionals to misdiagnose their sleep problems as other conditions.
Low Prevalence of Sleep Apnea in Women
Sleep apnea seems to affect more men than women. About 2% of women suffer from this condition compared to 4% of men. As a result, sleep apnea studies have largely focused on male subjects. A number of studies specify that they are studying the impact of sleep apnea on males. As a result, many of the symptoms listed for sleep apnea are based primarily on how it impacts the male body. If more focus is placed on studying sleep apnea specifically in women, research may find that a higher number of women are impacted by sleep apnea than presently thought.
Culturally Speaking, Women Don’t Snore
Popular media depicts snoring as being a dominantly male sound. Men in movies or on TV snore as a sign that they are deeply asleep. When women in the media snore, it is used for comedic effect or to suggest that she is a sloppy sleeper. As a result, many women are too embarrassed to admit if they snore.
Snoring can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition where soft tissue in the throat relaxes and restricts your airways during sleep. Women who feel embarrassed about their snoring are less likely to recognize it as a possible sign of this potentially life-threatening condition. Snoring sounds are often more subdued in women than men as well. These softer snoozing noises may go unnoticed, especially in cases where both partners of a couple snore, but one person snores louder than the other.
Atypical Sleep Apnea Symptoms in Women
Another part of the problem is that atypical sleep apnea symptoms more commonly appear in women than men. Insomnia, morning headaches, daytime fatigue, unstable mood, and other symptoms affect a large number of women suffering from sleep apnea. They may not be aware of experiencing snoring or apnea events during slumber. These symptoms are not specific to sleep apnea, so physicians will not always recognize them as being caused by sleep-disordered breathing. Instead, they may diagnose other conditions that share these symptoms such as depression.
Treating Your Sleep Apnea
If you experience daytime fatigue, snoring, or fluctuations in mood, you may suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can cause other concerning conditions to develop, including hypertension, diabetes, and heart failure. Detecting sleep apnea right away is important in order to prevent these serious health complications.
The severity of your symptoms will help determine what kind of sleep apnea treatment you receive. In many cases, oral appliances can be used at night that support relaxed muscles and reopen restricted airways. In more severe cases, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) can be used to provide you with a steady flow of oxygen throughout the night in order to improve your sleep.