It appears that the duration of abnormal breathing events may be a better predictor of mortality risk in both women and men. Patients with sleep apnea who have short interruptions in breathing while they sleep are at a higher risk for death than those with longer interruptions. This new information was found in a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

By understanding this new information, it can help dentists and physicians better prevent long-term mortality associated with obstructive sleep apnea. For those who have a sleep apnea diagnosis, it is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and, now, an increased risk of dying.

Apnea-hypopnea index for severity

Sleep specialists refer to the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) to determine the severity of sleep apnea. The severity of the AHI measurement can be linked to mortality and heart disease. However, AHI remains a coarse measurement of sleep apnea severity and is not a good risk predictor for women–AHI is largely based on data from men.

In this new study, not only does it matter how many breathing interruptions occur, but also how long each one lasts. Patients with the shortest apneas were 31 percent more likely to die during the study’s decade of follow-up with participants. This was true for both male and females.

Treating sleep apnea

The most common treatment for sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure machine. However, many patients find that wearing a mask during sleep is uncomfortable. When this is the case, they choose not to use it, which can worsen sleep apnea symptoms.

Even if a patient only has mild or moderate sleep apnea, it is important for both men and women to undergo treatment. Short breathing interruptions require further attention and commitment to treatment.