“Sleep apnea only affects men.”
“You’ll know you have sleep apnea if you snore.”
“Sleep apnea is not that common in women.”
Common misconceptions of sleep apnea, such as the ones above, are likely reasons why sleep apnea symptoms in women are misdiagnosed. Traditionally thought of as a chronic condition for men, research shows that about 45% of the sleep study referrals are women. Dr. Grace Pien, MD, MS shares in an article from the National Sleep Foundation that:
“With 8 or 9 men diagnosed with apnea for each woman…we know from studies in the general population that the actual ratio is likely to be closer to 2 or 3 men with OSA for each woman who has the condition.”
A study in 2013 from UCLA also suggests that “women are less likely than men to be diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea.”
If so many women think they have sleep apnea, why aren’t more women diagnosed?
Surprise! Men and Women Aren’t Alike – Sleep Apnea Symptoms in Women
You’ve probably heard that common symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring, obesity, headaches and a large neck size, to name a few. These symptoms are accurate – but more so in males than in females. Simply put – men and women are different. It shouldn’t be a surprise then, that sleep apnea symptoms in women are often quite different than in men. The reason why more women aren’t diagnosed with sleep apnea is because women who have sleep apnea will present with symptoms that are not considered “classic” symptoms. These may include:
- Restlessness in their legs
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Lack of energy
- Dry mouth on awakening
- A sense of being overwhelmed
- High blood pressure that is difficult to control
Women who transitioning through menopause are up to three times more likely to have OSA as compared to premenopausal women. A similar risk applies with women who are pregnant or obese. Additionally, hormonal and anatomical differences between women and men may cause subtle differences in the way that sleep apnea shows up in women. All of these differences point clearly to one conclusion – women must be considered for sleep apnea treatment differently from men.
How to Avoid Being Misdiagnosed
The National Sleep Foundation states that there are several chronic diseases that sleep apnea symptoms in women are commonly misdiagnosed as, from anemia, depression, diabetes, fibromyalgia, hypochondria, insomia, and menopausal changes. If you have sleep apnea, treatment for these other conditions are not going to help you!
The best way to avoid being misdiagnosed is to:
- Take responsibility for your own health. If you think you may have sleep apnea, you can take a brief quiz on our website to determine your apnea risk. You can also download SomnoMed’s free comprehensive guide on sleep apnea and snoring treatment to learn more about your options.
- Set an appointment with a sleep physician. A sleep physician can order a sleep test for you and is trained to accurately read your results and prescribe a solution.
- Explore your treatment options. Although CPAP (continuous positive aireway pressure) machines are commonly prescribed, if you have mild-to-moderate obstructive sleep apnea, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) which sets standards for sleep physicians, released new guidelines recommending that sleep physicians consider prescription of an oral device, rather than no treatment, for adult patients with OSA who are intolerant of CPAP therapy or prefer alternate therapy.