Sleep apnea is a type of sleep disorder, which causes abnormal pauses in breathing during sleep. This condition is more prevalent among men. However, women can also develop this condition. In fact, the risk of developing this condition by women can increase considerably after menopause.
There are basically three types of sleep apnea - obstructive, central, and complex sleep apnea. Each type is caused by different factors, but their symptoms usually overlap, which can make it a bit difficult to identify the specific type. The symptoms of this sleep disorder are less prominent in women than men. So, it can be more difficult to identify this condition in women.
Sleep Apnea Causes
As mentioned already, there are three types of sleep apnea, of which obstructive sleep apnea is more common. It is mainly caused by the relaxation of the muscles in the back of the throat during sleep. This causes the airways to close or become narrow, which in turn results in momentary pauses in breathing.
Central sleep apnea is not very common, and is caused by the failure of the brain to send signals to the muscles that are responsible for controlling breathing. Complex sleep apnea can occur due to both obstructive and central sleep apnea. The main risk factors for this condition are, obesity or being overweight, high blood pressure, age, family history, being male, heart disorders, neurological diseases, strokes, deviated septum, enlarged tonsils, overuse of sedatives and tranquilizers, smoking, and excessive consumption of alcohol.
Sleep Apnea Signs
The classic symptom of this condition is snoring. Snoring can be particularly louder and disturbing when the individual sleeps on his or her back. Loud snoring is usually observed in the case of obstructive sleep apnea. However, just because you snore while sleeping does not mean that you have this sleep disorder. Not every individual who snores has sleep apnea. Apart from snoring, some other common symptoms of this condition are, snorting, gasping, choking, and long pauses in breathing.
This condition can prevent the affected individual from getting deep and sound sleep by creating temporary pauses in breathing. This can cause excessive daytime sleepiness. Many women and men with this condition can wake up gasping for air. Apart from these, morning headaches, insomnia, frequent urination during night, restless legs, irritability, poor concentration, forgetfulness, and depression can be some other symptoms of this disorder.
Symptoms like loud snoring, episodes of breathing cessation, frequent tossing and turning during sleep, and gasping spells are usually observed by the bed partner. Some symptoms that are more commonly observed in women are not very specific to this sleep disorder, for which this condition can go unnoticed. Such symptoms are, fatigue, insomnia, morning headaches, waking up with dry mouth or a sore throat, mood disturbances, daytime sleepiness, irritability, restless legs, myalgia, and lack of energy.
Mild cases of sleep apnea can be resolved with some lifestyle modifications. This sleep disorder can be managed by losing weight, quitting smoking, limiting the use of alcohol and sedatives, avoiding caffeine, sleeping on the sides instead of the back, and maintaining a proper sleep schedule. But if the condition is severe in nature, then appropriate medications can be required, along with these lifestyle changes.
Obstructive sleep apnea can be treated with devices like continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), adjustable airway pressure devices, and oral appliances. Sometimes, surgery can also be required. Central and complex sleep apnea are usually treated with supplemental oxygen, and devices like continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP, bi-level positive airway pressure (BPAP), and adaptive servo-ventilator (ASV).
Though sleep apnea is known to be more common in men, women are not immune to this condition. Therefore, they should also remain vigilant and report any symptom that can be associated with this condition to their physicians. Prompt evaluation can ensure the early detection of this condition, which can help prevent the complications like cardiovascular diseases.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of a veterinarian.