Women who snore may be at increased risk of heart disease

Research shows snoring and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may lead to heart disease earlier in women compared to men. The findings from the Radiological Society of North America also suggest OSA is likely underdiagnosed among snorers.

“Loud and unusual snoring is the first sign of a more serious underlying problem,” said Simone Fearon, M.D., Medical Director and Physician Leader with ThedaCare Cardiovascular Care. “If a woman stops breathing and then gasps to regain her breath while sleeping, which often sounds like snoring, it’s an early indication that she has obstructive sleep apnea. And we know there’s a link between sleep apnea, insomnia and hypertension.”

Dr. Fearon sees these conditions as a triple threat to women, putting women at risk for heart disease. “Sleep apnea puts extra stress on your heart as it tries to pump blood more quickly to compensate for the lack of oxygen caused by the erratic breathing” she explained. “As oxygen levels fluctuate, plaque builds up in the arteries, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke.”

Sleep apnea is being called an epidemic worldwide. According to a 2019 study, nearly one billion people suffer with the condition with the highest incidence occurring in China, the United States, Brazil, and India, respectively. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine estimates 12 percent of Americans are impacted by sleep apnea but 80 percent go undiagnosed.

The only way to confirm the condition is through an observational sleep study, when variations in breathing and oxygen levels are recorded and the severity of sleep apnea is determined.

“It’s critical that women who snore get screened for OSA and treat their sleep apnea, especially with these serious and potentially deadly cardiovascular comorbidities associated with it,” Dr. Fearon added.

One study in the journal Sleep found that people with severe sleep apnea were three times more likely to die over the course of a nearly 20 year period compared to those without the condition.

The most effective treatment for severe sleep apnea sufferers is a C-PAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. It’s used at bedtime to regulate airflow and breathing while sleeping. For women who have trouble tolerating the cumbersomeness of a C-PAP, oral appliances designed to keep the throat open are available, but these usually are recommended for mild cases of the condition. Surgical options can be considered as well for more severe sleep apnea.

“Women need to focus on which treatment works for them, so they stick with it,” Dr. Fearon said. “Obtrusive sleep apnea is a recognized cause of secondary hypertension, so getting a good night’s rest could lower blood pressure levels.”

While snoring might be considered a joke in many families, it can be a warning sign of serious health issues.

 

“Loud snoring should not be taken likely or considered a normal part of sleeping,” she said. “Women should talk with their physician about it sooner rather than later for the best course of action and to reduce their overall risk for heart disease.”