Dangers of sleep apnea in women

Not getting enough sleep can make you more than just tired


NASHVILLE, Tenn – More than 42-million Americans have sleep apnea, a condition where breathing is interrupted during sleep. While many associate the disorder with men, studies show one woman has it for every two to three men. But because of more subtle symptoms in women like headaches and fatigue, women are much less likely to be diagnosed which could lead to dangerous consequences.

For decades, busy accountant Jenny Potts felt tired all the time. "It was a struggle to try to put in a full day," Potts said.

She'd fight to stay awake, but had no idea what was wrong.

"Driving back and forth I would get to the point where I would have to pull over on the side of the road and almost take a cat nap" Potts explained.

After enrolling in a sleep study, the diagnosis finally came: severe sleep apnea, a disorder that causes you to stop breathing during the night.

"Often, women will complain that they can't stay asleep throughout the night. They wake up frequently throughout the night," explained Kelly Brown, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology and Sleep Medicine of Vanderbilt University Medical Center,

Brown says while up to 15-percent of women have sleep apnea, it's often undiagnosed.

 "I was told 20-30 occurrences in an hour is sleep apnea. I had about 124 occurrences in an hour," Potts said.

Brown explained, "The danger is that there are a lot of medical disorders that are associated with obstructive sleep apnea."

Untreated, it can increase your risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and diabetes.

"50-percent of atrial fibrillation patients have untreated sleep apnea. And about 50-70-percent of patients with stroke have sleep apnea," said Brown. "Patients with poor sleep are more prone to certain cancers, particularly breast cancer."

Treatments range from losing weight to C-Pap therapy. That's what worked for Jenny.

"I'm just totally refreshed," Potts said.

One interesting way Brown says she's finding people coming into her office wondering if they might have sleep apnea has to do with the popularity of activity trackers like the fit-bit or jawbone which monitor your sleep patterns.

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