In the United States, 1 in 4 women dies from heart disease. Often called the “silent killer,” heart disease is the number one cause of death in men and women.
Another silent killer is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a sleep disorder well-recognized for the long-term damage it does to the body.
Men have historically been the target audience for sleep apnea screening and education, but that perspective is beginning to shift with the recognition that women also get sleep apnea.
In fact, a new study reports that sleep apnea may be more damaging to the female heart.
Heart Health Comprised
A study published in Circulation tracked the cardiovascular health of over 1,600 participants for 14 years. The participants were part of the Atherosclerosis Risk in the Communities and the Sleep Heart Health studies, which collected data on coronary disease, heart failure, cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality.
At the end of the 14 years, surviving participants underwent an echocardiography. The study’s findings report that women were more likely than men to experience the following four symptoms.
A condition whereby the heart cannot pump enough blood to support the body’s functions. The condition develops over time and can affect one or both sides of the heart. Heart failure has no cure, but lifestyle changes and medication can help people live longer.
Often a symptom of another cardiovascular condition, such as heart failure. A blockage in the heart’s blood supply often causes heart enlargement, a result of hypertension or coronary artery disease.
Markers for Heart Damage (Troponin T)
Troponin T is a protein found in heart muscle that is released into the bloodstream if there is heart damage. Doctors will order a troponin test if they suspect someone has had a heart attack. Troponin T can also indicate heart failure, inflammation and weakening.
According to a study by John Hopkins University, sleep apnea raises the risk of early death by 45 percent. Premature death is often the result of a cardiovascular event such as cardiac death, which is when the heart suddenly stops beating. The risk for cardiac death is higher in individuals with OSA than with those without OSA.
Women Go Undiagnosed
Despite growing awareness of sleep apnea, many women are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Some doctors hold preconceived notion about what an OSA patients looks like, overweight, male, middle-aged, that cause them to overlook the condition in female patients.
Women often display non-traditional symptoms. Instead of snoring, breathing pauses and excessive daytime fatigue women complain of the following symptoms:
- Morning headaches
- Mood disturbances
- Restless leg syndrome
Don’t Let Sleep Apnea Silently Damage Your Heart
The symptoms of heart disease are often subtle, but its damage often irreversible and life-threatening. Women are not immune from sleep apnea, though doctors have a tendency to overlook their symptoms.
If you are a female with any traditional or non-traditional sleep apnea symptoms, share your concerns with a trusted healthcare provider. Doctors often misdiagnose sleep apnea for insomnia or another condition.
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