The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women
Other Factors That Affect Heart Disease
Sleep apnea is a serious disorder in which a person briefly and repeatedly stops breathing during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea are more likely to develop high blood pressure, heart attack, congestive heart failure, and stroke.
Women are more likely to develop sleep apnea after menopause. Other factors that increase risk are overweight and obesity, smoking, the use of alcohol or sleeping pills, and a family history of sleep apnea. Symptoms include heavy snoring and gasping or choking during sleep, along with extreme daytime sleepiness.
If you think you may have sleep apnea, ask your doctor for a test called polysomnography, which is usually performed overnight in a sleep center. If you are overweight, even a small weight loss—10 percent of your current weight—can relieve mild cases of sleep apnea. Other self-help treatments include quitting smoking and avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills. Sleeping on your side rather than on your back also may help. Some people benefit from a mechanical device that helps maintain a regular breathing pattern by increasing air pressure through the nasal passages via a facemask. For very serious cases, surgery may be needed.
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Last Updated: February 29, 2012