FRIDAY, Dec. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Women with obstructive sleep
apnea have more brain damage than men with the disorder, a new
People with obstructive sleep apnea experience repeated
breathing interruptions while they sleep. Left untreated, sleep
apnea may lead to serious health problems such as high blood
pressure, stroke, heart failure, diabetes and depression.
About 10 years ago, a team at the University of California, Los
Angeles, showed that men with sleep apnea have damage to their
brain cells. In this new study of 80 participants, the same team
compared the brains of men and women with and without sleep
"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," chief investigator Paul Macey, associate dean of information technology and innovations at the UCLA School of Nursing, said in a university news release.
"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," Macey said.
In particular, brain damage in women with obstructive sleep
apnea affected two areas in the front of the brain involved in
decision-making and mood regulation. Women with sleep apnea also
had higher levels of depression and anxiety symptoms, according to
the study in the December issue of the journal
"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.
The next step is to learn more about the timing of brain changes
in people with obstructive sleep apnea, and to determine whether
treating the disorder can help the brain.
"What we don't yet know 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," Macey said.
While the study found an association between sleep apnea and
brain damage, it did not prove cause-and-effect.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
has more about