Oftentimes, we think of sleep apnea as being something that only affects men. Cardiologists, primary care docs, and other medical professionals often look for risk factors for sleep apnea in people that meet a certain set of physical attributes (including gender). While it’s true that apnea is more prevalent in men than women, the difference in gender prevalence of sleep apnea starts to become closer together when women go through menopause. Postmenopausal women are 3 times more likely to have moderate to severe sleep apnea than premenopausal women. Fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels can contribute to this increased incidence of sleep apnea, and research suggests that women who utilize hormone replacement therapy tend to not have the same increased risk of apnea. Untreated sleep apnea can lead to increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States accounting for 1 in every 5 deaths, and yet many times, women are not tested or treated for sleep apnea as frequently as their male counterparts.
I am passionate about helping women with both sleep apnea and TMJ-disorders. I’ve experienced in my life, both as a patient and a provider, that women’s medical complaints and concerns can often be dismissed. I have seen real physiological ailments that are treated as anxiety, depression, or psychological issues. I believe whole heartedly that emotional stress contributes to inflammation and physical illness, but even if that is contributing, is it possible that we are missing treatable diagnosis by attributing complaints to only this? If we treat a patient with sleep apnea as having depression, is that a true service to our patients? Or are we missing something? I try to consistently be unbiased with my male and female patients, especially my postmenopausal female patients. If you’re a woman, are postmenopausal and having trouble with your sleep, I encourage you to seek help. I would love to help you get better rest and find out if you are struggling with sleep apnea.
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