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Women face more hidden dangers of sleep apnea than men do

By Dental Tribune International
November 04, 2013

LOS ANGELES, USA: The impact of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a serious disorder characterized by repeated interruption of breathing during sleep, may be more severe in women than in men. Researchers have found that body responses, such as high blood pressure and sweating, are less pronounced in people with sleep apnea and in women in particular.

The study, conducted by researchers at the sleep laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, included 37 male and female OSA patients who had not yet been treated for the sleep disorder and 57 healthy controls from the Los Angeles community.

Overall, the researchers observed that autonomic bodily responses, namely the dynamic adjustments to autoregulatory functions, including changes in heart rate, blood pressure, sweating and pupil dilatation, were weaker in people with OSA. In the study, the participants performed three physical tasks while their heart rate was measured: breathing out hard, squeezing hard with their hand and putting one foot into cold water. In all tests, heart rate changes were lower and delayed in OSA patients.

In addition, the researchers found that OSA females showed the highest levels of each symptom. They concluded that women with OSA may appear healthy, having normal resting blood pressure for example, which may often lead to misdiagnosis. Therefore, women may be more prone to greater health issues associated with OSA, such as heart disease.

In order to understand the differences encountered in the present study better, the researchers stated that they will be investigating the effects of treatments such as continuous positive airway pressure, a common OSA therapy, in which a machine is used to help the patient breathe more easily during sleep.

The study, titled "Heart Rate Responses to Autonomic Challenges in Obstructive Sleep Apnea," was published online on Oct. 23 in the PLOS ONE journal.

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