A new study has revealed that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) poses a greater cardiac risk among women. The research also indicates that OSA is severely underdiagnosed among snorers.
OSA is a common but dangerous sleep disorder that causes an increased risk for left ventricular dysfunction in the heart. In rare cases, OSA causes right ventricular dysfunction.
OSA occurs during sleep when the throat muscles sporadically relax and block the airway. Loud snoring is very common with OSA, and other symptoms include gasping for air during sleep, waking up with a dry mouth, morning headaches, and irritability.
OSA can lead to many serious issues, such as daytime fatigue and sleepiness, complications with medications and surgery, and cardiovascular problems.
Using data from the UK Biobank, the researchers investigated cardiac function in relation to OSA and self-reported snoring. The experts focused on UK Biobank participants who had received a cardiac MRI.
The patients were split into three study groups including 118 patients with diagnosed OSA, 1,886 patients with self-reported snoring, and 2,477 patients who were unaffected by OSA or snoring.
“Our analysis showed that in both genders of the OSA and snoring groups there was an increase in left ventricular mass, meaning that the walls of the heart’s main pumping chamber are enlarged, making the heart work harder,” said study lead author Dr. Adrian Curta of Munich University Hospital. “We also found that men showed an increase in the ejection fraction of both ventricles.”
The researchers compared the individuals who snored to the unaffected group, and found a more significant difference in the left ventricular mass in women than in men. In addition, cardiac changes in the self-reported snorers indicated undiagnosed OSA.
“We found that the cardiac parameters in women appear to be more easily affected by the disease and that women who snore or have OSA might be at greater risk for cardiac involvement,” said Dr. Curta. “We also found that the prevalence of diagnosed OSA in the study group was extremely low. Together with the alterations in cardiac function in the snoring group, it leads us to believe that OSA may be grossly underdiagnosed.”
The research suggests that the shift from snoring to OSA is an evolving process that is associated with left ventricular hypertrophy, which can cause death during medical procedures. Dr. Curta is urging people who snore to get tested for OSA.
“I would encourage people who snore to ask their partner to observe them and look for phases during sleep when they stop breathing for a short while and then gasp for air,” said Dr. Curta. “If unsure, they can spend the night at a sleep lab where breathing is constantly monitored during sleep and even slight alterations can be recorded.”
The research was presented at the 104th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).