Sleep Apnea Presents Differently in Women

by Americare Respiratory Services

Doctors often have a preconceived notion of what a typical sleep apnea sufferer looks like – a middle-aged, overweight male who snores and wakes up gasping for air. This bias produces a roadblock to diagnosing women with sleep apnea.

Diagnosing sleep apnea requires an overnight stay in a sleep medicine center. At-home sleep studies are also available.  However, women may not be tested enough for sleep apnea because they have different symptoms than men.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms in Women

Typical symptoms of sleep apnea include loud, irregular snoring and waking up gasping for air. People with sleep apnea also tend to report daytime sleepiness, and many are living with diabetes as well.  However, there is a growing number of women with sleep apnea who are misdiagnosed because they have some atypical symptoms.  Women with sleep apnea often report symptoms of fatigue, anxiety, depression, and waking with a headache. These symptoms may also be associated with anemia, depression, anxiety, stress, and hormone changes, which is why women with sleep apnea are often misdiagnosed.  If the woman doesn’t fit the typical characteristics of someone who has sleep apnea, then she is unlikely to get the treatment she really needs. 

Which women are most at-risk?

Doctors should be more aware of the risk factors for sleep apnea that are unique to women.  High blood pressure and obesity are obvious risk factors, but post-menopause is not so obvious.  Research has found that stress levels and hormone changes that happen after menopause can greatly increase the risk of sleep disorders in women.

Women have unique treatment options

Most people with sleep apnea are prescribed CPAP therapy.   The CPAP machine, worn at night, gently forces air through the respiratory passages, stopping the breaks in breathing and allowing for an uninterrupted, more restorative sleep. There are unique CPAP masks designed specifically for women. 

Check out our selection of CPAP masks for women.

If you feel as though you may suffer from sleep apnea or if you have other sleep concerns, call your doctor today. You may benefit from a sleep study and finally be on your way to restorative sleep.