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Can snoring women get heart disease earlier than snoring men?

New research evaluated people with snoring and obstructive sleep apnea to determine if snoring women are at a higher risk of cardiac impairment compared to snoring men.

A partner snoring loudly next to you can cause sleepless nights. But this annoyance could actually be a warning. According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than nine million Americans intermittently stop breathing in their sleep at night because of snoring. This leads to poor quality of sleep and feeling of exhaustion the next day. The two major health effects caused by snoring are daytime sleepiness and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Because snoring can progress to obstructive sleep apnea, it is important for snoring women and men to not ignore this important symptom.

Does everyone who snore have sleep apnea?

Snoring is often a symptom of the condition known as obstructive sleep apnea in which people stop breathing for 10-20 seconds several times a night. Everyone with sleep apnea does not snore and neither do all people who snore have sleep apnea. Approximately 1 in 3 men and 1 in 5 women who snore develop some degree of sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea can cause serious health conditions

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea. People with obstructive sleep apnea snore loudly, wake up with a dry mouth and have a morning headache and irritability.

Loud snoring, a characteristic of obstructive sleep apnea, is a result of the blocked or collapsed upper airway during sleep causing lack of oxygen flow. Due to a lack of oxygen, the person awakens several times a night gasping for air. The lack of oxygen also triggers the release of stress hormones that may cause a rise in blood pressure and contribute to cardiovascular disease over time.

Study shows how sleep apnea affects snoring women and men differently

Although about twice as many men snore than women, the results of a new study suggest that snoring women are at a higher risk of heart disease than snoring men. The recent findings presented at the 104th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), reveal that obstructive sleep apnea and snoring may cause earlier impairment of cardiac function in women than in men. In addition, the study suggested that obstructive sleep apnea may be vastly underdiagnosed among the people who snore.

The researchers evaluated data from the UK Biobank that follows the health and well-being of 500,000 volunteers. This study analyzed the data from 4877 participants who underwent cardiac imaging. The participants were divided into three groups: 118 with obstructive sleep apnea; 1886 with self-reported snoring; and 2477 with no snoring or sleep apnea.

The results showed that both men and women with obstructive sleep apnea and snoring had larger left ventricles of the heart. This means there was an enlargement of the main pumping chamber of the heart causing the heart to work harder to pump.

The researchers observed an increased ejection fraction of both ventricles in men. Ejection fraction refers to the percentage of blood being pumped out of the heart’s lower chamber with each beat. A measurement of ejection fraction indicates how well the heart is functioning.

Snoring women are at a greater risk than snoring men

A comparison of the snoring group and the group with no snoring or sleep apnea showed a more significant difference in the size of the left ventricle in snoring women than in snoring men. These cardiac changes suggest that women who snore may be at a higher risk of heart disease and point to undiagnosed sleep apnea in women.

The researchers also found that cardiac parameters are more easily affected by obstructive sleep apnea in women. Therefore, women who snore or have obstructive sleep apnea may be at a higher risk of earlier impairment of cardiac function as compared to men.

Obstructive sleep apnea remains vastly underdiagnosed

The results of the study showed a very low prevalence of diagnosed obstructive apnea in the participants of this study. The alterations of the cardiac function in the snoring group suggest that participants with self-reported snoring may have undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea.

People who snore should get screened for obstructive sleep apnea

The findings of this study indicate that snoring can gradually develop to obstructive sleep apnea. The researchers suggest that people who snore loudly should ask their partners to observe them while sleeping and look for noisy breathing and phases when they stop breathing or gasp for air. The most definite way to diagnose sleep apnea, however, is with an overnight sleep study in a sleep clinic.

If diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, the treatment depends on the cause of an individual’s sleep apnea. In some cases, losing weight, eliminating alcohol use, or stopping the use of certain medications can improve sleep. In other cases, a surgical procedure or a special machine that keeps the upper airways open when you sleep is the best way to treat obstructive sleep apnea.

In conclusion, obstructive sleep apnea and snoring may lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. There is a different manifestation of this disease in men and women. The snoring women are more vulnerable to cardiac alterations and may develop heart disease earlier than men who snore. The researchers point that most cases of obstructive sleep apnea remain underdiagnosed. Therefore, if you or your partner hear loud snoring at night, the researchers recommend either observing your partner at night or get a sleep study done. If diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, proper treatment can improve heart function and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Written by Preeti Paul, MS Biochemistry

Reference: “Snoring Poses Greater Cardiac Risk To Women”. Eurekalert!, 2018, Accessed 14 Dec 2018.

Preeti Paul MSc
Preeti Paul MSc
Preeti has a Master’s degree in Biochemistry. Her career interests include scientific services and clinical research. She is passionate about the dissemination of scientific information to the public. As a medical content writer, Preeti aims to be instrumental in shaping the transmission of scientific advances to the general public so that they can make informed decisions. In her free time, she likes to travel, cook and advocate toxin-free living.


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