Sleep apnea may be even more dangerous for women than for men, a new study suggests.
Epidemiological studies have linked sleep apnea to heart disease in men, but the differences in risk between men and women have been largely unexplored. For the current study, researchers measured sleep quality electronically in 737 men and 879 women, average age 63, who were free of cardiovascular disease at the start of the study. They also tested all of them for troponin T, a protein that can be released into the bloodstream if the heart is damaged, and whose presence in otherwise healthy people indicates an increased risk for heart disease.
They tracked the participants for 14 years, recording incidents of coronary artery disease, heart failure and death from cardiovascular disease or other causes. The study was published in Circulation.
Obstructive sleep apnea was independently associated with increased troponin T, heart failure and death in women, but not in men. And in women, but not men, sleep apnea was associated with an enlarged heart, another risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
“Most people who have sleep apnea have a lot of other risks for heart disease,” said the lead author, Dr. Amil M. Shah, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard. “But in women, the relationship between sleep apnea and heart disease persisted even after accounting for the other risks.”
“Even among women with sleep apnea who don’t get heart failure,” he continued, “it’s associated with changes in the heart that lead to worse outcomes.”