Women with sleep apnoea at a higher risk of heart damage than men

A new study has found that a common but dangerous sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) poses more of a cardiac risk to women than men

Women with sleep apnoea at a higher risk of heart damage than men

The research, which will be presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, also suggests that OSA is commonly undiagnosed among people who snore.

OSA arises when muscles in the throat relax and block the airway while a person is sleeping, causing them to gasp for air during sleep and snore loudly.

The condition is associated with an increased risk for left ventricular dysfunction and sometimes right ventricular dysfunction, within the heart.

Now, Adrian Curta (Munich University Hospital) and colleagues have assessed UK Biobank data available for individuals who had undergone a cardiac MRI scan.

The participants were categorized into three groups: those who had OSA (118), those who self-reported snoring (1,886) and those who did not have OSA or who did not snore (2,477).

Curta and colleagues report that among both men and women in the OSA and snoring groups, left ventricular mass was increased, compared with those who did not have OSA or snore. This means that in the OSA and snoring groups, the walls of the heart’s main pumping chamber were enlarged, making the heart work harder, says Curta.

When they compared those with OSA who snored to those who did not have OSA or snore, the researchers found that a significant difference in the left ventricular mass of women, which was less pronounced than in men.

“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,” says Curta.

The team also found that the number of individuals with OSA who had received a diagnosis was extremely low.