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Is Sleep Apnea More Dangerous for Women Than Men?

When you hear the term "obstructive sleep apnea," you probably think of overweight men over the age of 40 who snore incessantly throughout the night. And while it’s true that men are twice as likely as women to develop this sleeping disorder, it’s important to acknowledge that women are also at risk. Not only that, but according to a new study published in the journal Circulation, the cardiovascular health risks associated with sleep apnea may actually be higher for women.

For the study, researchers examined 752 men and 893 women with an average age of 62.5. At the beginning of the study, none of the participants had cardiovascular disease. The researchers followed the participants for 14 years, and then tested them at the end of that period to determine the condition of their hearts. The researchers found that both men and women with sleep apnea exhibited higher levels of troponin T, a protein that indicates damage to the heart.

However, upon controlling for other diseases that are linked with this development – like diabetes and hypertension – they came to an interesting conclusion. According to their data, obstructive sleep apnea was independently associated with increased troponin T, heart failure and enlarged hearts in female subjects only."Most people who have sleep apnea have a lot of other risks for heart disease," lead author Dr. Amil M. Shah, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard, told the New York Times. "But in women, the relationship between sleep apnea and heart disease persisted even after accounting for the other risks."

Women often struggle to receive a sleep apnea diagnosis, partly because they don’t fit the mold of the typical sleep apnea patient and partly because their symptoms manifest differently. Because of this, experts say that women are more likely than men to have undiagnosed sleep apnea.

If you’re a woman and you find yourself exhibiting symptoms of sleep apnea – insomnia, disrupted sleep, chronic fatigue, depression or snoring – it’s time to discuss sleep apnea with your doctor. Be proactive so you can get the treatment you need to improve your health and keep your cardiovascular risks at a minimum.