Risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and the development of subsequent cardiovascular (CV) complications differ by sex, but new research is indicating that it may differ more than we thought.
To evaluate whether sex-based differences exist in the relationship between OSA and CV disease, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) evaluated the links among sleep apnea, cardiac bio-markers that provide early evidence of heart disease, and occurrence of adverse heart outcomes in 1,625 individuals who were free of heart disease when first studied, and followed for an average of almost 14 years.
Results of the research, published in Circulation in October, found that sex-specific differences exist in the relationship between OSA and CV disease and that, in women, sleep apnea was associated with higher blood levels of a marker that provides information on early evidence of heart injury.
“The finding that sleep apnea is associated with evidence of early heart injury and an elevation in long term risk of heart failure, coronary heart disease, enlargement of the heart muscle, and death in women highlights the importance of sleep apnea screening and treatment for women, a group who often are not routinely screened for sleep apnea,” said co-author Susan Redline, MD, MPH, associate clinical director, in the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at BWH.
The study examined post-menopausal women, who are at a greater risk for sleep apnea and heart disease. Researchers found that older women may be at relatively greater risk of sleep apnea related heart disease compared to men.
“We hope these results focus attention on the importance of sleep apnea in women, who historically are under-diagnosed in this area,” Redline noted.