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Cathy Rossi, 57, never had trouble sleeping, but when she started experiencing mental blanks on her morning drive to work she knew something was wrong. "I was on my way to work and I was on one interstate and next thing I knew I was on another road and I had no idea where I was," Cathy said. After a barrage of medical tests, Rossi was diagnosed with sleep apnea, a diagnosis she initially had trouble accepting.
"I didn't snore, I didn't have any of the typical symptoms of sleep apnea," Cathy said. Anytime you see anything on television it's always some big guy sawing logs. These are common misconceptions, according to Dr. Grace Pien, Assistant Professor at the Sleep Medicine Division of the Perelman School of Medicine. Dr. Pien, reports, sleep apnea was initially believed to be a disease that almost exclusively affected men, only rarely showing up in women. However, newer findings have refuted this, showing that for every two or three men who have the condition, roughly one woman is also affected. According to Pien, the consequences of this misconception are evident. "The symptoms we think about with sleep apnea, such as snoring and daytime sleepiness, are those who were first described in men, said Pien. "Women may have more subtle symptoms, such as headaches and fatigue, which lead to frequent misdiagnoses. Women may be diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, inactive thyroid, depression, or other types of medical conditions before receiving a diagnosis of sleep apnea."
This is especially the case for menopausal woman. They are not only one of the most at-risk groups of women for developing sleep apnea, but they often write off the symptoms to the changes going on in their bodies. "A woman might just think…it's normal and maybe once I get through menopause this will get better and her doctor might actually think the same thing," Pien said.
So what are the signs that a woman may have sleep apnea? Pien mentions a few signs to look for including the following:
- Feeling run down, tired, or fatigued
- Waking up feeling like you are gasping for air or choking
- Sleepiness or lack of energy during the day
- Waking up with a sore or dry throat
- Having a headache upon waking up
Sleep apnea is associated with long-term health problems. According to Pien, "We know that sleep apnea, especially if it's severe, can increase the risk for having various types of heart disease including heart attacks and even dying from a heart-related condition. There also appears to be an association with stroke."
If you think you may be suffering from sleep apnea get it checked out. Ross did and after treatment says that she feels like a whole new person. "It doesn't take that much to have a test done" she said. "Everybody owes it to themselves to have it checked out."