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Women, Brain Damage, and OSA

Posted On October 3, 2013
October 03, 2013

Your grandmother might have said, “A lady never snores” but the truth is they do and often times this could be a sign of a serious health condition called sleep apnea. A new study, found that obstructive sleep apnea in women puts them at a higher risk of brain damage than men. Dr. Paul Macey, the Associate Dean for information and Technology and Innovations at the UCLA School of Nursing, conducted this study analyzing the changes in the nerves or white matter of the brain across both genders.

The multi-year study, entitled “Sex Differences in White Matter Alterations Accompanying Obstructive Sleep Apnea” published in the journal Sleep, analyzed 80 patients across both genders that were newly diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea.

Macey and his team used fractional anisotropy (FA) an imaging-derived measure to assess the integrity of brain fibers along with a questionnaire about sleep quality, depression and anxiety. They found differing areas of injury in male vs. female brains with obstructive sleep apnea. The frontal areas of the female brain, which control decision making and mood regulation, showed significant injury. In these patients symptoms of daytime sleepiness, reduced quality of sleep, depression and anxiety were also apparent.

“Our study showed that injury to the brain is greater in women than men. We knew from previous studies that people with obstructive sleep apnea have changes in the brain, but those earlier studies did not consider gender differences,” Macey said in an interview for the Academic Minute. “What our study showed is that the brain’s white matter – nerve fibers which connects brain cells – is more affected in women, particularly areas of the brain near the front above the eye sockets show more damage in women. These brain areas regulate mood and decision making. So, our findings raise the possibility that the reason women are more affected by sleep apnea than men, is because their brains are more affected.”

Macey concludes that more research needs to be done; however, the findings of this study shed compelling new evidence for the sleep apnea community. One thing is for certain, a correct diagnosis and treatment plan for individuals – especially females – suffering from obstructive sleep apnea is essential.

You can learn more about the following risks associated with obstructive sleep apnea

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