Women with sleep apnea have higher degree of brain damage than men, study shows

December 3, 2012, University of California, Los Angeles

Women suffering from sleep apnea have, on the whole, a higher degree of brain damage than men with the disorder, according to a first-of-its-kind study conducted by researchers at the UCLA School of Nursing. The findings are reported in the December issue of the peer-reviewed journal Sleep.

Obstructive is a serious disorder that occurs when a person's breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep, sometimes hundreds of times. Each time, the in the blood drops, eventually resulting in damage to many cells in the body. If left untreated, it can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, , diabetes, depression and other serious health problems.

Approximately 10 years ago, this UCLA research team was the first to show that men with obstructive sleep apnea have damage to their .

For this latest, multi-year study, "Sex Differences in White Matter Alterations Accompanying Obstructive Sleep Apnea," the researchers looked at patients who were diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea at the UCLA Sleep Laboratory. They compared the in these patients' brains—known as white matter—to fibers of individuals without and focused on unearthing the difference in between men and women with sleep apnea.

"While there are a great many brain studies done on sleep apnea and the impact on one's health, they have typically focused on men or combined groups of men and women, but we know that obstructive sleep apnea affects women very differently than men," said chief investigator Paul Macey, assistant professor and associate dean of information technology and innovations at the UCLA School of Nursing. "This study revealed that, in fact, women are more affected by sleep apnea than are men and that women with obstructive sleep apnea have more severe brain damage than men suffering from a similar condition."

In particular, the study found that women were impacted in the cingulum bundle and the , areas in the front of the brain involved in decision-making and mood regulation. The women with sleep apnea also showed higher levels of depression and anxiety symptoms, the researchers said.

"This tells us that doctors should consider that the sleep disorder may be more problematic and therefore need earlier treatment in women than men," Macey said.

With this finding as a foundation, Macey said that the next step is for researchers to "untangle the timing of the brain changes" and find out if treating sleep apnea can help the brain.

"What we don't yet know," he said, "is, did sleep apnea cause the brain damage, did the brain damage lead to the sleep disorders, or do the common comorbidities, such as depression, dementia or cardiovascular issues, cause the brain damage, which in turn leads to sleep apnea."

Explore further: Is that sleepiness during pregnancy normal or a sign of sleep apnea?

Related Stories

Is that sleepiness during pregnancy normal or a sign of sleep apnea?

February 10, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Most pregnant women complain of being tired. Some of them however, could be suffering more than normal fatigue associated with their pregnancy; they may have developed obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a ...

CDC study forges link between depression and sleep apnea

March 30, 2012
Obstructive sleep apnea and other symptoms of OSA are associated with probable major depression, regardless of factors like weight, age, sex or race, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ...

Sleep apnea linked to silent strokes, small lesions in brain

February 1, 2012
People with severe sleep apnea may have an increased risk of silent strokes and small lesions in the brain, according to a small study presented at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2012.

Treatment of obstructive sleep apnea improves blood pressure in men

October 13, 2012
A new study suggests that when prescribed by physicians in routine practice and used appropriately by patients, treatment for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) could reduce blood pressure in men with hypertension.

Study links obstructive sleep apnea to blood vessel abnormalities

July 11, 2011
Obstructive sleep apnea may cause changes in blood vessel function that reduces blood supply to the heart in people who are otherwise healthy, according to new research reported in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart ...

Recommended for you

Synthetic cannabinoid reduces sleep apnea

November 29, 2017
A synthetic version of a molecule found in the cannabis plant was safe and effective in treating obstructive sleep apnea in the first large, multi-site study of a drug for the sleep disorder funded by the National Institutes ...

Sleeping through the snoring: Researchers identify neurons that rouse the brain to breathe

November 2, 2017
A common and potentially serious sleep disorder, obstructive sleep apnea affects at least one quarter of U.S. adults and is linked to increased risk of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. In a paper published today ...

Remede system approved for sleep apnea

October 9, 2017
(HealthDay)—The Remede sleep system, an implanted device that treats central sleep apnea by activating a nerve that sends signals to the diaphragm to stimulate breathing, has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Inflammation may precede sleep apnea, could be treatment target

September 1, 2017
Inflammation is traditionally thought of as a symptom of sleep apnea, but it might actually precede the disorder, potentially opening the door for new ways to treat and predict sleep apnea, according to researchers.

More evidence: Untreated sleep apnea shown to raise metabolic and cardiovascular stress

August 31, 2017
Sleep apnea, left untreated for even a few days, can increase blood sugar and fat levels, stress hormones and blood pressure, according to a new study of sleeping subjects. A report of the study's findings, published in the ...

Sleep patterns contribute to racial differences in disease risk

August 18, 2017
Poor sleep patterns could explain, in part, the differences in the risk of cardiometabolic disease between African-Americans and European-Americans, according to a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.