Women Are Frequently Misdiagnosed When It Comes To Sleep Apnea

It is generally accepted men often suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Why doesn’t the public hear more about women who are afflicted with this same medical condition? The fact is women aren’t as apt to be diagnosed with this condition.

In past sleep studies, the ratio of male versus female patients was definitely unbalanced toward men; however, other studies reveal the true ratio is close to two to three males suffering from OSA for every one female with this condition. This is obviously a medical condition both genders endure.

When first diagnosed this circumstance was described as one plaguing overweight or obese men who were middle-aged. As a consequence, females complaining of problems were not diagnosed with OSA because it didn’t occur to the physician it was the root of the woman’s complaints. Thankfully, that perception is changing although physicians still don’t have as high of an indicator of suspicion for sleep apnea in females.


Women do not exhibit identical symptoms as men when suffering from certain medical conditions, including a heart attack and OSA. Males with OSA are often witnessed by their bed partner snoring, which wakes up the other person, as well as experiencing pauses in their breathing. Women are considered “vigilant” snoozers and are more likely to be alarmed by their bedmate’s sleep patterns whereas men sleep sounder and aren’t as apt to observe sleep abnormalities in their female partner.

Women suffering from OSA may complain of mood instability, sleeplessness, weariness and headaches in the morning pointing to other medical conditions, leading to an inadvertent misdiagnosis. Sometimes the complaints from females are vague and include restless leg syndrome and depression, which are not exclusive to OSA.

Women may report awakening during the night and feeling as if they are choking or gasping for air. Experiencing a dry mouth in the morning as well as a sense of being besieged are indicators a woman is suffering from OSA.

When OSA isn’t suspected the female patient is not sent to a sleep clinic for auxiliary assessment. Additionally, even if it is suspected women are not as likely to agree to take part in a sleep study because they are frequently the caretakers of children and cannot afford to spend the night away from home. They would prefer being armed with a prescription, hoping it will cure their ills.


A sleep study is undergone to determine whether the patient is suffering from central sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea or complex sleep apnea, the latter a combination of both types of apnea. The most atypical kind of apnea is central sleep apnea, which is the result of the brain’s failure to send the correct signals to the breathing muscles. This leads to pauses in breathing and is often the result of other medical conditions or certain medications that are taken. The person with central sleep apnea doesn’t necessarily sore.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is diagnosed more frequently. This condition is the result of full or limited obstruction in an individual’s upper airway that occurs during sleep. When a blockage is present the chest and diaphragm muscles must put forth more effort into opening the stymied airway and this causes snoring and snorts. When there is an obstruction this limits the amount of oxygen getting to organs and leads to an irregular heart cadence.


If you are experiencing symptoms such as weariness, depression, restless leg syndrome and are aware you are awakening during the night and gasping for air, address this with your physician. It may be you are suffering from OSA.

Alterations in lifestyle may help, including losing weight, not smoking and reducing alcohol consumption. Some victims of OSA wear a CRAP or continuous positive airway pressure mask during the night, which amps up the air pressure in the individual’s throat so it does not cave in when the person breathes in.

Another option is an oral appliance worn in the mouth which prevents the crumpling of the soft tissues in the back of the throat and tongue, keeping the airway open. There are surgical options available as well.

Lesley writes widely about issues surrounding dental health. She feels that Dr. Chet Hawkins sets the gold standard for dentists in Texas.

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1 Comment

  1. My in-laws are both being tested for sleep apnea, but I hadn’t even heard of it until then, and of course once you hear of something new it keeps popping up. 🙂

    I came over to say Merry Christmas!

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