Female Snorers Face Greater Cardiac Risks Than Male Counterparts, Study Says

Caught snoring? It may be time for a doctor’s appointment, say health experts.

Snoring can be a common sign of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), which can result in several negative health effects. What’s more, data from a new study revealed that OSA is not only vastly underdiagnosed in snorers, but that women who snore are at a higher risk for earlier cardiac impairment than men.

The results were shared in a presentation at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) in November. We reached out to Dr. Adrian Curta, lead study author and radiology resident at Munich University Hospital, to better understand these findings.

[Editor’s Note: The content provided on this site is for general informational purposes only. Any information provided is not a substitute for professional medical advice. We encourage individuals to consult with the appropriate health expert if they have concerns.]

What Is OSA?

OSA is the most common form of sleep apnea. It may also be the cause of increased risk for both left and right ventricular dysfunction in the heart, according to a release about the study.

An estimated 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, and an estimated 80% of all cases of moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea remain undiagnosed, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association.

Symptoms of OSA include excessive daytime sleepiness, loud snoring, waking abruptly while gasping or choking, and/or waking up with a dry mouth or a sore throat, among other symptoms.

Sleep Apnea And The Heart

Using data from the UK Biobank, the study’s researchers looked at cardiac function in three groups: those diagnosed with OSA, self-reported snorers, and those unaffected by sleep apnea.

Dr. Adrian Curta

Researchers analyzed cardiac imaging of more than 4,800 participants. Those with OSA and those who reported snoring (in people of all genders) showed a greater risk for an increase in left ventricular mass.

This means that the walls of the heart’s main pumping chamber are enlarged, which makes the heart work harder, Curta said in the release.

Changes in the hearts of individuals who snore compared to those who were unaffected by snoring or OSA suggest that sleep apnea may be heavily underdiagnosed.

“Yes, the surprise was indeed great,” Curta told Mattress Clarity. “I expected a fraction of undiagnosed individuals of up to 50 [percent], but our number of undiagnosed individuals was much higher than that.”

Women Who Snore May Be At Risk

When Curta and his team compared the snoring group to those with no sleep apnea or reported snoring, they also found a bigger difference in left ventricle mass in women than in men.

“There are two observations to be addressed here,” Curta told us. “First, the higher mass in the snoring group which could be explained as a sign of early hypertrophy. This means that the heart walls are thickened, making the heart work harder.”

Curta told us the second observation is lower end-diastolic volumes — or the amount of blood in the ventricle of the heart prior to the heart’s contraction — of both the left and right ventricle. He said a reason for this could be a decrease in the elasticity of the wall of the heart, which is called “myocardial stiffening.”

When To See The Doctor

Curta told Mattress Clarity that there is no guess right now as to why women who snore are at an increased risk of heart issues compared to their male equivalents, but that it would be an interesting topic for further studies.

Those who have concerns about their own sleep health, Curta recommends having one’s partner observe the person’s sleep to see if there are any phases of apnea during the snoring sessions. If this is the case, further action should be taken, he said.

Those who don’t have a partner to check on their sleep may want to consider going straight to a sleep medicine specialist for evaluation.

Image provided by the Radiological Society of North America

Featured image: Craig Adderley/Pexels

Katie Golde

Katie previously managed the day to day operations of the Mattress Clarity news site and reviews sleep products in addition to writing and editing sleep news. She hails from Austin, where she lives with her growing family. She is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and has a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University and has a background in health and science content. Her work can be found in print and online publications like Discover Magazine, USA Today and The Huffington Post.