Women who are gearing up for or currently going through menopause may notice a few changes as hormones ebb and flow. Some of these changes cause not-so-fun side effects, such as hot flashes, mood swings, weight gain and even the chance of developing breathing issues, including obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). These side effects can be bothersome, but OSA can be deadly.
What Is OSA?
OSA is a serious disorder that causes breathing to stop several times temporarily during sleep. These breathing interruptions are caused when the muscles of the throat relax and fall, blocking the airway during sleep. When this happens, affected individuals gasp, snore or cough to restart breathing.
Other effects of sleep apnea include fatigue, headaches, mood swings, depression and changes in libido.
Some researchers estimate between 18 and 29 million adults have OSA, of which the majority are men. So, how do women factor with OSA?
Research has found that the chance of developing OSA goes up among women before, during and after menopause. This risk also increases if you have family members with sleep apnea, if you’re overweight, or if you smoke or drink.
Why Does Menopause Make It Worse?
You may know that during menopause, hormone levels change. Particularly, your levels of estrogen and progesterone decrease. So, how does that connect to sleep apnea?
When the level of these hormones decreases, it can affect the muscle tone in your airway. In turn, these muscles can relax and fall, blocking the throat. When the throat is blocked, and you can’t breathe during sleep, you develop sleep apnea.
But there’s more. When hormones change, it can lead to weight gain and changes in body composition, which in turn can also lead to sleep apnea as extra fat settles around the throat. This excess fat can disrupt breathing.
However, for many individuals, sleep apnea develops as a result of the lower jaw being set too far back. This situation causes sleep apnea because, along with the jaw, the tongue is too far back. So when you relax during sleep, the tongue falls to block the airway.
So, What Can You Do?
The first thing you can do is talk to your doctor if you think you see signs of sleep apnea and you’re in perimenopause or menopause.
For some people, hormone therapy can help ease uncomfortable symptoms. We also suggest incorporating lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, exercising and limiting alcoholic beverages before bedtime.
If sleep apnea is severe, some patients may need to use a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine during sleep to prevent the airway from collapsing. This device works by pushing the airway open through a mask worn over the face. Some people who use the CPAP machine find the device to be claustrophobic and loud – so they don’t use it and their condition persists.
But in many cases, sleep apnea can be treated in a much more comfortable – and thus effective – way. This treatment, which is what we use here at Dr. Konig’s office, is through the use of a sleep apnea appliance that helps to keep the airway open by moving the jaw into a more neutral position, which prevents the airway from being blocked.
Are you noticing the signs of sleep apnea? We would love to talk to you and schedule a consultation to discuss our treatment approach. Give us a call at 713-668-2289 to schedule an appointment today.