If you snore, chances are pretty good that you have been made aware of it. Anyone who has ever shared a room with you has probably made sure to complain about your snoring. But other than disturbing your significant other’s sleep from time to time, you might think snoring is not such a big deal, but you’d probably be wrong about that. If you’re a woman, even if you’ve never been diagnosed with sleep apnea, your snoring could be unhealthy. In fact, new research suggests it could be problematic for your heart.
The study, which took place at Munich University Hospital in Germany, found that snoring may be associated with a more rapid development of heart damage in women than in men. These results are based on an investigation that included 4,877 British men and women. These subjects were a subset of the approximately 500,000 individuals throughout the United Kingdom who had taken part in the U.K. Biobank, a collection of health-related data.
More than half of the volunteers, 2,536 in total, did not report snoring or have a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Of the remainder, 1,919 snored but had no diagnosis, and 38 had been diagnosed with OSA. Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which the muscles of the throat relax sporadically, blocking the airway.
MRI tests had been performed on all the participants to examine their hearts. The imaging showed that in both male and female subjects who snore or have obstructive sleep apnea, the left ventricle of the heart was more likely to be enlarged, suggesting damage is occurring within the main pumping chamber, which results in the heart having to work harder.
But gender differences appeared when the researchers began comparing those who snore or have OSA to those without either issue. Looking at the imaging results within that framework, it became clear that the size of the left ventricle in women who snore is considerably more pronounced than it is in their female peers who do not snore.
This disparity of enlarged left ventricles being markedly worse in women snorers versus women non-snorers than the difference that appears in male snorers versus non-snorers implies that women may experience earlier damage to their hearts, perhaps related to undiagnosed OSA. Although the study was not designed to prove that sleep apnea causes potentially dangerous heart alterations, it does show a strong connection between the two.
But why would a condition involving snoring be linked with heart issues? OSA is actually quite a bit more serious than just a snoring problem. Sufferers also experience episodes of breathing cessation during slumber, and they typically awaken from these periods startled and gasping, in addition to experiencing daytime fatigue, headaches, and difficulties concentrating. What’s more, obstructive sleep apnea has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, hearing loss, high blood pressure, and other health issues. And this is not the first time OSA has been associated with heart disease, as a 2010 study at the Boston University School of Medicine in Massachusetts found that obstructive sleep apnea increases the risk of heart failure in men.
Ultimately, the main takeaway from the current study is that if you snore, especially if you are a woman, it is essential to undergo a sleep study to determine whether or not you have obstructive sleep apnea. A sleep study takes place overnight, typically in a hospital or sleep center, and you are monitored by an EEG machine to obtain information on sleep cycles, breathing rates, and more. The American Sleep Apnea Association estimates that as many as 80 percent of American adults with the condition are undiagnosed.
If testing does determine that you have OSA, your treatment may involve the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine while you sleep to help your airways remain open. But there are many other options as well, including an oral appliance to hold your jaw in position and prevent airway blockage, getting allergies under control, and losing weight.