Do you wake up not feeling refreshed? Do you feel irritable, sluggish, and fatigued, regardless of how much sleep you get? Are you known to snore? Do you get headaches, and possibly feel down or depressed? If you said yes to most of these questions, then you may have Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).
OSA is a breathing disorder that manifests itself while you sleep. At night, your airways collapse or become blocked, affecting your airflow. Your brain wakes itself up so that breathing can resume. This happens many, many times each night, meaning that your sleep is frequently interrupted, leading to the symptoms above.
About twice as many men have sleep apnea as women, and men are 8 times more likely to be diagnosed with sleep apnea than women. If you are a woman, you need to be aware of the subtle differences in your symptoms so that you are diagnosed correctly.
But why the disparity in diagnoses? For one, even though women do report their issues with their sleep and overall health, they tend to talk more with their doctor instead of with a sleep specialist. Seeing as women are not the typical sleep apnea patient, a primary care provider may believe that the symptoms are related to a different issue instead of OSA.
Additionally, women’s symptoms tend to be somewhat more subtle. For example, snoring may not be as loud or obvious, and their sleep apnea events tend not to last long as those reported by men. The women’s partners may not be as observant or knowledgeable about their partner’s sleep habits, which can unintentionally lead to an incorrect diagnosis.
If you are a woman and suspect you have OSA, there are strategies you can take to make sure you get the right diagnosis. Write down your symptoms over a period of days. If you have a partner, ask them to observe your sleep and record what they see. Review the risk factors not just for OSA, but specifically for women and OSA. Finally, if you seem to meet the criteria, ask for a sleep study. Take charge of your health – be your best advocate.
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