The Added Dangers for Women with Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can be a dangerous disease if it is not properly treated. As stated by The New York Times, a recent study indicated that sleep apnea may be even more dangerous for women than for men. With this new study, it is important to pay close attention to sleep apnea if you currently suffer from it and are a woman. However, it is still important as a man to receive treatment as well. Let’s take a look at why women may have added dangers when suffering from sleep apnea.

Heart Disease

Epidemiological studies have linked sleep apnea to heart disease in men, but the differences in risk between men and women were often overlooked. In this study quoted by The New York Times, researchers measured sleep quality electronically in 737 men and 879 women with the average age of 63 who were free of cardiovascular disease at the start of the study. This study also tested each person for troponin T, which is a protein that can be released into the bloodstream if the heart is damaged. When this is present in otherwise healthy people, it often indicates an increased risk for heart disease.

Each participant was tracked for 14 years and incidents of coronary artery disease, heart failure and death from cardiovascular disease or other causes were recorded throughout the process. Once completed, this study was published in Circulation.

What We Learned

Through this study, we learn that obstructive sleep apnea was independently associated with increased troponin T, heart failure and death in women, but not in men. Strange, right? Additionally, in women, but not in men, sleep apnea was associated with an enlarged heart, which is another risk factor for cardiovascular disease. As we already know, most people with sleep apnea already have an increased risk of heart disease, but in women the relationship is stronger—persisting even after accounting for the other risks. Even if women with sleep apnea do not get heart failure, it is associated with changes in the heart that lead to worse outcomes.

So, what do we do with these results? The same thing we have been doing all along—helping our patients find the care they need in order to protect them from harm. Please contact me if you have any questions about sleep apnea and the increased risk for women as well as other patients.

Sleep Apnea May Increase a Patient’s Risk of Depression

The more and more research we conduct, the more connections we find with sleep apnea. And, what does that mean? It means that our roles as dentists in dental sleep medicine are more important than ever before! A fundamental part of the human experience is when we feel sad every now and then. This can be even more apparent during difficult or trying times.

However, in contrast, persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, hopelessness and disinterest in things that were once enjoyed are common symptoms of depression—this is not something that should go untreated or ignored. Depression is an illness that affects at least 20 million Americans—now that is a lot. It is just a little more than the 18 million suffering from sleep apnea.

Just as sleep apnea should never be ignored, neither should depression because it is a serious disorder that affects the way a person eats, sleeps, feels and thinks. While the cause of depression often remains unknown, it can be effectively controlled with treatment. Additionally, the relationship between sleep and depressive illness is complex—depression can cause sleep problems and sleep problems can cause or contribute to depressive disorders. As dentists offering dental sleep medicine services, we can continue to be our patients’ line of defense against sleep apnea and other conditions, such as depression.

What is the Connection?

Sleep-disordered breathing has been linked with depression, especially since insomnia is very common among depressed patients. Evidence suggests that people with insomnia have 10 times the risk of developing depression compared with those who sleep well. Depressed individuals may suffer from a range of insomnia, including:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Un-refreshing sleep
  • Daytime sleepiness

However, research suggests the risk of developing depression is highest among people with both sleep onset and sleep maintenance insomnia. Obstructive sleep apnea is linked with depression, as people with depression were found to be five times more likely to suffer from sleep-disordered breathing. The good news is that treating OSA may improve depression. And, in many cases, because symptoms of depression often overlap with symptoms of sleep apnea, there can be a risk for misdiagnosis.

People with symptoms of depression should be screened for sleep apnea by being asked about symptoms such as:

  • Snoring
  • Breathing pauses while sleeping
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness

Please contact my office for more information on sleep apnea. Through further experience and research, I hope we can all continue to improve our patients’ health through proper diagnosis and treatment options.

Did You Know: Sleep Apnea Cases Climb as Age and Obesity Numbers Grow

As you know, while many people think they are getting enough sleep, they are actually not. Why? Because they might still wake up exhausted due to sleep apnea. Still, to this day, many patients’ sleep apnea goes undiagnosed, which further worsens their overall health, as well as sleeping patterns. As dentists it is our duty to identify potential cases of sleep apnea in our patients because as the population ages and obesity grows, sleep apnea cases continue to climb.

The Classic Sign

Many adults display the classic signs of loud snoring and broken sleep for years without even knowing their airways have been obstructed. Their sleeping partner might think, “Oh, it’s just snoring,” and not bother to research this any further. Or, they might do the classic “middle of the night elbow jab” that hints at, “roll over.” Either way, it is important to identify snoring as a potential sign of sleep apnea. After all, it is better to be safe than miss out on preventing further complications.

The Numbers are Rising

Year after year we are noticing that sleep apnea cases are climbing because the population is aging and obesity figures are growing. In relation to the past decade, there has been a significant jump in the number of people being diagnosed with nighttime respiratory problems and sleeping disorders.

One connection in the rise of these numbers is because there is a link between aging and the propensity of the airway to collapse. As with most parts of our bodies as we age, the structures within the body start to get a bit floppy. This, too, occurs with the upper airways.  And, as you are aware, sleep apnea means the muscles in the upper airway relax and the passage of air becomes obstructed at times—slowing or briefly halting oxygen getting to the lungs.

Additionally, as people age, we often see that there is a significant expansion in waistlines. As people gain weight, increased fat deposits within the upper airway and to increased incidents of sleep apnea. Obesity is often one of the leading causes of sleep apnea, which means it is important to inform our patients of weight loss and how important it is to remain active and healthy.

Oral Appliance Therapy

To help your patients find relief from their sleep apnea symptoms, oral appliance therapy might be the best option. However, before treatment can begin it is important for your patients to get a diagnosis from a sleep physician. This is where your working relationship with the medical community will come into play.

If you have any questions about sleep apnea or the process of diagnosis, please contact Dr. Mayoor Patel for more information.

Sleep Apnea and MS: Is There a Connection?

There is another connection I would like to take a closer look at: Sleep apnea and MS. This is a connection that has not been talked about in too much detail, but it appears to be one we might want to begin to pay closer attention to.


Fatigue and sleep complaints are commonly experienced by those living with multiple sclerosis (MS), which is an autoimmune disorder that affects the brain and spinal cord. A recent study suggested that while depression plays a role in MS-related fatigue, sleep disturbance is the biggest contributor—that is where sleep apnea comes into the picture.

An explanation for sleep-related fatigue experienced by those living with MS had something to do with obstructive sleep apnea. According to the study, sleep apnea was prevalent in people with MS. It also suggests that OSA may be a contributor to the fatigue that is one of the most common and debilitating symptoms of MS. It is definitely worth keeping an eye on and potentially improving symptoms through the treatment of sleep apnea. While sleep apnea treatment can’t eliminate MS, it can hopefully help with the increased fatigue portion of symptoms.

What is the Connection?

As stated before, sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that is characterized by frequent pauses in breathing while a person is asleep. After the breathing pauses, the person’s lungs catch up by taking deep gasps of air. Some nights a person may even snore violently or choke from oxygen deprivation. The nerve spasms associated with MS are often the causes of related sleep apnea. If a person suffers from sleep apnea, it should be addressed immediately to prevent long-term damage to the body.

Approximately one-fifth of MS patients surveyed had OSA and more than half were found to have an elevated risk for OSA based on screenings. Because fatigue is a common symptom of MS, it might pose as an excuse as to why they cannot sleep at night. However, this mistake needs to be avoided because many times the lack of sleep can be linked to something bigger. OSA can often be easily and effectively treated with oral appliance therapy to not only relieve sleep apnea symptoms, but potentially improve MS symptoms, too.

If you have a patient ha has been diagnosed with MS, it may be a good idea to discuss the possibility of OSA, especially if they are experiencing fatigue. For more information on sleep apnea, please contact my office today. While we continue to learn more about this connection, let’s continue to keep an eye it—you might be just what your patient needs to find some relief.