Females With Sleep Apnoea Suffer Worse Brain Damage Than Men

Thu, Dec 06, 2012

Bad news for women who suffer from sleep apnoea.  According to a study conducted by researchers at the UCLA School of Nursing, women with sleep apnoea experience a higher degree of brain damage than men with sleep apnoea.  The findings are reported in the December 2012 issue of the peer-reviewed journal, ‘SLEEP’.

It has long been known that obstructive sleep apnoea is a serious ‘sleep disordered breathing’ condition.  While the sufferer sleeps, the airway is blocked by soft tissue (such as the tongue, soft palate, uvula and/or pharyngeal wall) collapsing across it.  Breathing stops for at least 10 seconds, more commonly much longer, before the body momentarily wakes and starts breathing again.  (The sufferer is usually unaware of waking and has no recollection of doing so the next morning.)    These breathing stoppages and arousals can happen hundreds of times per night. 

During each ‘apnoeic event’ the oxygen level in the blood drops, damaging cells and leading to adverse physiological changes throughout the body.  Left untreated, it can lead to hypertension, stroke, heart failure, diabetes, depression and other serious health problems.

For this multi-year study, "Sex Differences in White Matter Alterations Accompanying Obstructive Sleep Apnea," the researchers looked at patients who were diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnoea.  Comparison of the ‘white matter’ or nerve fibres in these patients' brains against the white matter of patients without sleep problems lead to a significant discovery about the difference in brain damage between men and women with sleep apnoea.

"While there are a great many brain studies done on sleep apnea and the impact on one's health, they have typically focused on men or combined groups of men and women, but we know that obstructive sleep apnea affects women very differently than men," said chief investigator Paul Macey, from the UCLA School of Nursing. "This study revealed that, in fact, women are more affected by sleep apnea than are men and that women with obstructive sleep apnea have more severe brain damage than men suffering from a similar condition."

In particular, the study found that women were impacted in areas at the front of the brain (the cingulum bundle and the anterior cingulate cortex) which are involved in decision-making and mood regulation. The women with sleep apnoea also showed higher levels of depression and anxiety symptoms, the researchers said.

"This tells us that doctors should consider that the sleep disorder may be more problematic and therefore need earlier treatment in women than men," Macey said.

This is just one more reason, in a long list of reasons, why it is vital sleep apnoea sufferers are treated.  If you think you might have a sleep disordered breathing condition, or know someone who does, get in touch with us on 07 3218 2127, or click on the button below and we'll be happy to help.

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