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Hot Flashes Linked to Sleep Apnea

A new study published in the journal of the North American Menopause Society examines the potential link between hot flashes and obstructive sleep apnea in menopausal women. Researchers discovered that women who reported experiencing severe hot flashes were 1.87 times more at risk for obstructive sleep apnea than those who reported only mild or no hot flashes.

Sleep Apnea and Menopause 

The study looked at 1,691 women from the Mayo Clinic who had completed questionnaires. The women at intermediate or high risk for obstructive sleep apnea were more likely to be older, have hypertension and have a higher body mass index.

According to the study, diagnosing women with obstructive sleep apnea is actually more challenging than diagnosing men. This is due to the difference in symptoms experienced by gender. While men most often report loud snoring as the prominent symptom, women complain of fatigue, insomnia, headaches, anxiety and even depression. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 61 percent of post-menopausal women report symptoms of insomnia.

Gender Differences in Sleep Apnea Diagnosis

Men are twice as likely to be diagnosed with sleep apnea than women. According to the American Sleep Association, 9 to 21 percent of women have obstructive sleep apnea, while 24 to 31 percent of men suffer from the disorder. Experts such as Dr. David Buck, DDS, of Lynnwood, Washington, believe that the disparity lies in the lack of diagnosis for women.

"Because the symptoms present themselves so differently in men and women, doctors often misdiagnose women as having depression or anxiety instead of finding the root of the cause may be sleep apnea," he said.

Women Are Affected Differently By Sleep Apnea

Research shows that women and men not only sleep differently, but are also affected by sleep, or the lack of, differently. For instance, women have a shorter circadian cycle on average than men, and the male body doesn’t gain as much benefit from a deep sleep as a woman’s does.

A study done by UCLA found that although women are less likely to be diagnosed with sleep apnea, their brains are more profoundly affected by the disorder, especially when it comes to mood regulation and decision-making. 

Sleep Apnea Is Dangerous for Women 

One thing that’s not different between the genders when it comes to sleep apnea is the danger associated with untreated symptoms. This was a popular topic in the media early this year when beloved Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher died after suffering a heart attack from reported complications associated with obstructive sleep apnea. It was not clear whether she had ever been formally diagnosed or was even aware she had the sleep disorder, nor was it made public whether she was being actively treated for sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea in women can increase the risk of stroke, high blood pressure and even irregular heartbeat if left untreated. People with untreated sleep apnea are actually two to three times more at risk of suffering a stroke, according to "Sleep Health Heart Study" published in the American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine.


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