Women and Sleep Apnea
Dr. Barbara Phillips — sleep expert, board member and past chair of the National Sleep Foundation — asked some noted experts about the unique challenges women face in being diagnosed with sleep apnea.
Dr. Phillips: Do you think women with sleep apnea are as likely to be diagnosed as men with sleep apnea are?
Grace W. Pien , MD, MS, assistant professor of medicine, divisions of Sleep Medicine and Pulmonary and Critical Care at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine: On the whole, I believe that women with sleep apnea are less likely to be diagnosed compared to men. In earlier studies of patients coming in for evaluation for sleep apnea, the ratio of men to women has sometimes been extremely lopsided, with 8 or 9 men diagnosed with apnea for each woman found to have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). However, we know from studies in the general population that the actual ratio is likely to be closer to 2 or 3 men with OSA for each woman who has the condition.
Nancy A. Collop , MD, medical director at Johns Hopkins Hospital Sleep Disorders Center and associate professor of medicine at Hopkins' Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine in Baltimore, Md.: My bias is they are not, although I think this is improving as the numbers in our sleep center suggest that women make up about 45 percent of sleep study referrals and most sleep studies are still done to screen for sleep apnea.
Dr. Phillips: Why do you think women are less likely to be diagnosed with sleep apnea?
Dr. Pien : Although there is greater awareness now that sleep apnea is also quite common in women, there are probably several reasons that women may be less likely to be diagnosed and treated for sleep apnea. First, physicians often have a predefined notion of the type of patient who has sleep apnea, like a middle-aged overweight or obese male. Thus, they may not think of this diagnosis when the patient is female. Second, women may present with slightly different symptoms than the "classic" symptoms of snoring,