Study links asthma to increased risk for sleep apnea in young women

Cincinnati -- Researchers from the University of Cincinnati (UC) and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) have found that young women with asthma are twice as likely to have symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea--a condition that often goes undetected in women--compared with those who do not have asthma.

The Cincinnati team found that about 21 percent of young adult women with asthma experienced habitual snoring, the primary symptom of obstructive sleep apnea.

These findings, the researchers say, disprove a long-held notion that obstructive sleep apnea predominantly affects males, and highlights the importance of identifying specific groups of women who are at high risk for the condition.

This study is reported in the August edition of the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

"For a long time physicians believed that men were more likely than women to get obstructive sleep apnea, but we've shown that's not necessarily true," says Maninder Kalra, MD, lead author of the study and assistant professor of pediatrics at the UC College of Medicine. "Our study reinforces the need for awareness and early detection of the disease in women who are at increased risk for breathing disorders related to sleep."

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when airways in the nose, mouth and throat narrow and disrupt a person's ability to breathe properly--primarily during sleep. When this happens, breathing can stop for short periods and cause blood-oxygen levels to become low.

Left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea can lead to impaired memory, mood swings, restless sleep, and extreme day-time fatigue. Long term effects can include higher blood pressure and decreased heart function.

"Physicians need to know the risk factors that predispose a patient to obstructive sleep apnea," Kalra adds, "so we can get those patients in for a conclusive test--such as a sleep study--and start treatment sooner."

The UC-led research team also found that women who smoked cigarettes were at a higher risk for snoring than those who did not smoke.

Researchers collected data from 677 mothers of infants enrolled in the UC environmental health department's Cincinnati Childhood Allergy and Air Pollution Study (CCAAPS) about their history of snoring, respiratory symptoms and cigarette smoking.

The CCAAPS, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, is a five-year study examining the effects of environmental particulates on childhood respiratory health and allergy development.

All families enrolled in the study had at least one confirmed allergy, in either the mother or the father. Environmental tobacco smoke exposure and any history of asthmatic conditions were measured by questionnaire. Researchers used this data to compare snorers with non-snorers and determine risk factors for snoring in women under 50.

Traditional treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea include surgery to remove tissue in the throat and use of a mask during sleep that applies continuous pressure to the airways to help restore airflow. According to the American Lung Association, more than 18 million Americans have sleep apnea.

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Collaborators in this study include UC's Jocelyn Biagini, David Bernstein, MD, Sherry Stanforth, Jeffrey Burkle and Grace LeMasters, PhD, principal investigator of the CCAAPS. This study also received support from a Cincinnati Children's Hospital Research Foundation grant.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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