Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) plagues millions of Americans, making it a big health concern. For women, the health risks of having OSA could be even more serious. A new study found that women with OSA also have weaker autonomic body responses, such as controls for blood pressure, sweating and heart rate.
OSA occurs when a person stops breathing multiple times during sleep, the number of pauses in breathing may be in hundreds for some patients. This disorder causes low oxygen in blood, leading to many blood cells being damage. OSA has been linked by previous studies to serious health conditions such as heart disease, obesity, cancer, glaucoma and early death.
The UCLA School of Nursing used men and women in their study, some participants had OSA while others did not. All volunteers had their heart-rate responses measured by:
-The Valsalva maneuver- participants breathed in and out while their mouth was closed
-A hand grip challenge: – participants squeezed their hand as hard as possible
-The cold pressor challenge- participants right foot is submerged in near-freezing cold water for 1 minute.
The results showed that in all 3 tests the participants with OSA had lower and delayed changes to their normal heart rate, compared to the healthy participants. The difference was even more significant in women with OSA.
The findings indicate that women with OSA may be more likely to develop heart disease than men with the sleep disorder. Early detection and treatment can protect the brain and other organs from serious damage.
Often times, women may go undiagnosed with OSA because they appear to be healthy with a normal resting blood pressure and heart rate. Also, symptoms in women are more subtle, leading to them being wrongly diagnosed.
It is important to note that just because you are sleeping 7-9 hours a night, doesn’t mean that you are free of sleep apnea. If you wake up with a dry mouth, headache or simply don’t feel well-rested, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor about sleep apnea the next time you are in!