Sleep Apnea in Women
An estimated 12 million people in the United States suffer from sleep apnea. Furthermore, it’s estimated that 80 percent of the cases go undiagnosed, especially among women. The condition affects many more people than the stereotypical idea of an overweight man.
Thirty-eight thousand people die annually from sleep apnea, many in car accidents. Carmen Mrowczynski was nearly one of those statistics. “It just got progressively worse until one day I almost rear-ended somebody,” she says.
Until then, Carmen, like many women, didn’t realize she had a problem. She explains, “You’ve got your kids growing up and everything, and so you’ve got to do all these things, and you don’t pay attention to it.”
During an episode of sleep apnea, the airway walls relax and narrow. When the person inhales, the airway can close. It leads to snoring and difficulty breathing. The most common symptom is daytime sleepiness. Extreme cases can cause stroke, heart or respiratory failure, even sudden death.
Sleep disorder specialist Morris Bird, M.D., from the Florida Hospital in Orlando, Fla., says spouses are the best references, a problem for women since men are heavier sleepers.
“They don’t tend to awaken as much. So they’re exposure to their wives’ snoring or interrupted sleep breathing may not occur as much as in females,” says Dr. Bird. He says women also refer to their problem as fatigue rather than sleepiness, leading to a wrong diagnosis.
Carmen was diagnosed and treated for her sleep apnea. She says her energy is back for the first time in nearly 10 years. “Now if the clock rings I can get myself up and go. I don’t want to waste a whole day. As you get older your time gets shorter.”
Carmen says the more time to spend with her husband and grandsons, Cody and Tyler, the better.
Sleep apnea is treatable. Dr. Bird says anyone who has trouble sleeping or suffers from daytime sleepiness should seek help.