Menopausal Women Have Increased Risk of Developing Sleep Apnea

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I took my dad to get a new continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine in order to correct his sleep apnea today. It’s a pretty high tech device with lots of bells and whistles, and is designed to correct his breathing while sleeping. I’ve noticed when I walk by his room that at times he doesn’t seem to be breathing or his breathing is really shallow while he’s sleeping

    So why am I telling you about my father in a menopause blog? It turns out that women’s risk of sleep apnea increases as we go through the menopausal transition.  In a study out of the University of Wisconsin, researchers found that post-menopausal women have a three times higher risk of developing moderate or worse sleep apnea than premenopausal women. Unfortunately, most cases of sleep apnea in women are not diagnosed.

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    So what is sleep apnea? There are two types of sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea, which is less common, happens when the brain doesn’t send the necessary signals to the respiratory system. This type of apnea is more common among people who have specific medical conditions or use specific medicines.

    Obstructive sleep apnea, which is the more common form, is caused when the airway collapses or is blocked while you’re asleep. You then start breathing shallowly or periodically pause in your breathing. These pauses in breathing can last from a few seconds to minutes while you’re asleep. Furthermore, these pauses can occur 30 times or more each hour. Sleep apnea also can cause shallow breathing while you’re asleep.

    Not surprisingly, sleep apnea disrupts the quality of sleep and keeps a person from reaching a state of deep restorative sleep. As a result, the person ends up being tired the next day. 

    Untreated sleep apnea also can trigger more serious health issues. These include high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, diabetes, heart arrhythmia, heart failure and the increased risk of work-related or driving accidents.

    And a new study out of Taiwan suggests that having sleep apnea may also increase a woman’s risk of osteoporosis. This study involved 1,377 people who had been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea between 2000 and 2009, as well as 20,600 people who did not have sleep apnea. The researchers followed all of the study participants until they received an osteoporosis diagnoses, died or the study ended in 2011. The researchers found that over the six years of follow up, the risk of developing osteoporosis was almost three times higher in participants who had obstructive sleep apnea. Their analysis also found that older adults and women had a higher risk for osteoporosis than younger participants or male participants.

    So how is sleep apnea diagnosed? Surprisingly, health care providers often can’t detect this condition during routine office visits or through blood tests. If you are concerned that you have this condition, talk to your primary care physician or a sleep specialist. However, you should check your health care insurance policy first to see if you need to talk to your primary care physician first. Additionally, some policies specify specific sleep centers and testing facilities that you will need to use.

  • The doctor probably will recommend a sleep study. This procedure usually is done by spending a night at a sleep lap or through a home study that uses special equipment.  This equipment records activity such as brain waves, respiration, heart rate, eye and chin movements, and oxygen and carbon dioxide levels during a six-hour period of of sleep.

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    If you’re diagnosed with sleep apnea, treatment will depend on the severity of the condition. For instance, if you are diagnosed with mild sleep apnea, you may be asked to make lifestyle changes. These changes can include avoiding alcohol and medications that make you sleepy, stopping smoking, losing weight and sleeping on your side. You also may be asked to use nasal sprays or allergy medicines in order to keep nasal passages open. You also may be prescribed a mouthpiece that can adjust your lower jaw and tongue to keep your airways open. More advanced sleep apnea may be treated through wearing a CPAP while sleeping. Surgery also is a possibility in these more advanced cases.

    Sleep apnea can have wider health consequences beyond being tired the next day. Therefore, if you suspect that you have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor and see if you qualify for a sleep study test. You’ll rest more assured by working with health care professionals to see if you have this condition – and you’ll be protecting your long-term health.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    American Sleep Apnea Association. (ND). Getting a diagnosis.

    Chen, Y., et al. (2014). Obstructive sleep apnea and risk of osteoporosis: Population-based cohort study in Taiwan. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

    National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2012). How is sleep apnea treated?

    National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2012). What is sleep apnea?

    Young, T. (ND). The menopausal transition as a risk factor for sleep apnea. Australasian Menopause Society.

Published On: April 16, 2014