We have talked about the association of hormones with sleep apnea risk, and the fact that menopause can significantly increase women’s risks . A new study confirms this association and shows that even women of healthy weight have a higher risk of sleep apnea after menopause.

Happy mature couple snuggle in bed together

A Large Study Population

For this study, researchers looked at data from nearly 1700 women who took part in the Data Registry on Experience of Aging, Menopause, and Sexualtiy (DREAMS) study starting in May 2015. The goal was to look at the association between a woman’s subjective experience of menopause and her risk of developing sleep apnea.

For the women included in the analysis, researchers compared results from the STOP-BANG screening tool for sleep apnea and those from the Menopause Rating Scale (MRS), which includes reports of vasomotor symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats.

Researchers discovered that there was a significant correlation between women reporting these symptoms and their tendency to develop sleep apnea. Women who had higher scores on the MRS were 1.87 times more likely to be at high or intermediate risk for sleep apnea than those who had low scores. This risk was even more serious for healthy weight women, who were 2.15 times more likely to be at high or intermediate risk for sleep apnea than those of similar weight who didn’t report the menopause symptoms.

As a result, researchers concluded that subjective reports of menopause symptoms was associated with a higher sleep apnea risk.

Diagnosis Is Failing

It’s worth noting that women weren’t giving polysomnography as part of this study. Sleep apnea risk was related only by the screening tool. So we don’t know for sure what the true proportion of women with sleep apnea was in this study.

However, it does seem that women just aren’t getting proper attention to this issue from their doctors. Two years after reporting their symptoms, few women were diagnosed with sleep apnea. About 65% of those that had high or intermediate risk of sleep apnea hadn’t yet been diagnosed by the doctor. Doctors continue to think of sleep apnea as a man’s issue and are likely failing to talk to women about it, even as women get older. And it’s likely that doctors don’t realize that the increased risk of sleep apnea persists even in normal-weight women.

Talk to Your Doctor

This study serves as an important reminder that women may have to start the conversation with their doctors about sleep apnea. With sleep apnea, a missed diagnosis can have dangerous, even deadly consequences.

If you need help talking to your doctor about this issue or to get a referral to a sleep doctor that can help, please call (402) 493-4175 today for an appointment with an Omaha sleep dentist at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.