Identifying Sleep Apnea in Older Women

Sleep apnea is a serious disorder that affects up to 12 million people every year in the United States. It is also, unfortunately, a nearly invisible illness that all-too-often goes undiagnosed, especially in postmenopausal women. This is because the symptoms can be hard to catch. After all, the sufferer is sleeping so they don’t realize what’s happening, and any partner they have may consider snoring to be little more than a nuisance. Now, however, a new symptom may be an additional sign of the condition in older women that is more noticeable.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

OSA is generally caused by a blockage of the airways resulting from loose tissues or extra tissue in the throat and nose. This tissue collapses during sleep, causing difficulty breathing. However, there are cases in which the brain malfunctions and fails to tell the body to keep breathing.

In older people, muscles tend to atrophy and tissue loosens, which can directly contribute to sleep apnea. This condition can lead to cardiovascular disease and other serious health problems. There are treatments for this condition, but it first needs to be diagnosed.

Nocturnal Enuresis

The recent study published in the Menopause medical journal was conducted by a team at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University. It indicates that nocturnal enuresis, or bedwetting, might be a screening factor for OSA that doctors should consider.

Up until now, OSA has been underdiagnosed in older women due to patients underestimating their symptoms. This can lead to wrong diagnoses of insomnia, depression or other issues. Nocturnal enuresis has been linked with childhood OSA, and the new information indicates that it also might be connected to the condition in postmenopausal women.

The Study

For the study, researchers analyzed a huge trove of health information that was compiled by the Women’s Health Institute. This information covered more than 160,000 postmenopausal women over a 22-year period from 1993 to 2005. The records allowed the team to look at traditional risk factors for OSA, such as obesity, snoring, hypertension, daytime tiredness and the like, and draw connections to the women who also experienced nocturnal enuresis.

After accounting for outside factors such as pregnancy and alcohol use, the team was able to determine that the more traditional symptoms and factors related to OSA that a woman experienced, the more likely it was that she also had nocturnal enuresis. In fact, having just two traditional risk factors doubled the possibility that bedwetting was also experienced, and having four risk factors quadrupled the chances.

A Powerful Indicator

While the results of the study are preliminary and more research needs to be done, this is a promising indicator of a new factor in the diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea in older women. The hope is to reduce misdiagnoses and allow more women to receive the treatment they need.

Do you experience the symptoms of OSA in the Atlanta area? If so, we can help. Read a bit more about what sleep apnea is and how it is treated, and then give us a call today for more information and to schedule an appointment.

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