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Women With Sleep Apnea At Risk

Update Date: Oct 24, 2013 04:21 PM EDT

The body's autonomic nervous system which controls your heart rate, respiratory rate and perspiration under a lower level of consciousness is said to be weaker in people who have obstructive sleep apnea according to a new study. 

"We now know that sleep apnea is a precursor to bigger health issues," said Paul Macey, lead researcher on the study.

"The condition affects more that 20 million adults in the U.S. and is associated with a number of serious health consequences and early death," reports the University of California, Los Angelos. "Women are much less likely to be diagnosed than men." 

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when a person's breathing wakes them up because they cannot breathe fully. This type of breathing can be dangerous because a level of oxygen in the blood drops which can cause damage to the body's cells. 

"Women with obstructive sleep apnea may appear to be healthy-having, for instance, normal resting blood pressure-and their symptoms also tend to be subtler, which often means their sleep problem is missed and they get diagnosed with other conditions," reports UCLA

For the study researchers had men and women, with and without obstructive sleep apnea, undergo some activities to observe how their heart rate responded. Of the activities patients were asked to breathe out while their mouth was closed, squeeze an object hard with their hand and place their right foot into almost freezing cold water for one minute.  

Researchers found that during these tasks the patients with obstructive sleep apnea had lower normal heart rates than those who without the disorder.

"The heart-rate results for these tests show that the impact of sleep apnea, while bad in men, is more severe in women," Macey said. "This may mean that women are more likely to develop symptoms of heart disease, as well as other consequences of poor adaptation to daily physical tasks."

Researchers infer that the primary sleep apnea therapy called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) where a machine helps a person breathe better during sleep, may be a helpful treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. 

In regards to the dangers of obstructive sleep apnea Macey said, "Early detection and treatment may be needed to protect against damage to the brain and other organs."

The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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