Are women under-treated for sleep apnea?

When we think of the typical obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) patient, we often imagine someone overweight, sedentary, middle-aged . . . and male. Until recently, many doctors viewed sleep apnea as mostly a man’s disease, and that resulted in many more men than women getting diagnosed with the disorder.

Studies now show that sleep apnea in women is likely underestimated and undertreated, as signs and symptoms of sleep apnea in premenopausal women are different compared to men.

While earlier studies indicated that men were as much as 9 times as likely to have sleep apnea as women, today we know that sleep apnea in women is common, and the gap between men and women is nowhere near that large.

Some of the reasons women aren’t diagnosed with sleep apnea may be:

  • Many doctors have preconceived notions about what a typical OSA patient looks like and may overlook the reported symptoms by women when they don’t fit the common portrait.
  • Women are less likely to report loud, chronic snoring.

Women usually report different bothersome symptoms than men that may lead to misdiagnosis of other disorders:

  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Mood disturbances
  • Lack of energy
  • Restless leg syndrome

It is important that we make efforts to change our pre-conceived notions about what an OSA patient looks like so that women are able to get a diagnosis and undergo treatment.

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