Sleep Apnea Affects the Heart Health of Men and Women

Lisa Nelson, RD, LN Health Pro
  • Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where there are abnormal stops (interruptions) in breathing or abnormally low breathing during sleep. Each stop (or pause) in breathing is called an apnea. This apnea can last anywhere from a few seconds to minutes and can occur repeatedly throughout the night.

    Sleep apnea results in excessive daytime tiredness, impaired alertness, slower reaction time, vision problems, and behavioral effects (i.e. moodiness, belligerence, decreased attentiveness).

    Increased Risk for Sleep Apnea

    Here are a few characteristics that put you at increased risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea:

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    Excess weight - Excess fat deposits around the upper airway can obstruct breathing.

    Large neck circumference - A neck circumference above 17 inches is linked to increased risk because the thicker neck may narrow the airway.

    High blood pressure - Tends to occur more often in individuals with high blood pressure.

    Obstructive sleep apnea increases the risk of dying from heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems.

    Men tend to be twice as likely to develop sleep apnea. Little research on sleep apnea has focused on women since it is more prevalent in men.

    Women and Sleep Apnea

    A Spanish study publish in the January 12, 2012 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, has shown sleep apnea has just as negative health effect on women and can be treated effectively by a breathing apparatus the same as men.

    Study participants included 1,116 middle-aged women sent to sleep medicine clients in Spain. Researchers assessed the women to determine if they has sleep apnea or not, measured the severity of the apnea, and divided the women into groups. Some of the women with sleep apnea were treated with CPAP.

    CPAP stands for "continuous positive airway pressure" and delivered through a mask work during sleep.

    The women without sleep apnea were used as a control group to compare results. The women were follower for more than seven years. During the seven year period, 41 women (4%) died due to a cardiovascular problem.

    These deaths related to cardiovascular problems occurred more often in women with sleep apnea not treated with CPAP. The women with CPAP had rates of cardiovascular disease similar to the women without sleep apnea. According to researcher Dr. Francisco Campos-Rodriguez, the women with untreated severe obstructive sleep apnea had 3 ½ times the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to the women without sleep apnea.

    Seek Treatment for Sleep Apnea

    If you tend to be tired and sluggish during the day, no matter how long you sleep at night, it would be wise to discuss this possible issue with your doctor. Most insurance providers do cover the CPAP treatment system.

    As an FYI, if you tend to have high blood pressure when you wake in the morning, this may be a sign of sleep apnea. Discuss further with your doctor.

    You can sign up for the e-course 7 Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure at

Published On: January 25, 2012