Defining the Profile of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Women Compared to Men

J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2022 Dec;31(12):1782-1790. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2021.0659. Epub 2022 Sep 27.


Background: The importance of understanding the presentation of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in women has been increasingly recognized. Although there is some insight that there are significant differences in presentation between women and men, the consequences of such differences, particularly for treatment have not yet been fully identified. Thus, the objective of this study was to determine the phenotype of OSA in women. Materials and Methods: Study of a population-based clinical cohort of 2022 patients with OSA confirmed by polygraphy or polysomnography (apnea-hypopnea index [AHI] >5/hour). Comorbidities, symptoms, physical examination, current medical treatments, and sleep parameters were recorded. Results: A total of 709 women and 1313 men were included in this study. After adjustment for anthropometric characteristics, morphological alterations, and previous treatment, women were found to have lower AHI values (25.3 ± 1.2 vs. 35.0 ± 0.9; p < 0.001), desaturation index (24.4 ± 1.2 vs. 33.2 ± 0.9; p < 0.001), and saturation time <90% (18.8 ± 1.3 vs. 24.1 ± 1.0; p < 0.001) compared with men. Furthermore, women had a lower risk of witnessed apnea (odds ratio adjusted [ORa] for baseline characteristics and sleep parameters), (ORa: 0.53, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.40-0.71), reduced sensation of restful sleep (ORa: 0.50, 95% CI: 0.38-0.66), greater fatigue (ORa: 2.68, 95% CI: 1.86-3.86), headache (ORa: 3.00, 95% CI: 2.26-3.97), memory disorders (ORa: 1.836, 95% CI: 1.40-2.41), insomnia (ORa: 2.09, 95% CI: 1.50-2.93), and excessive daytime sleepiness (ORa: 1.41, 95% CI: 1.03-1.92), with interference in their daily activities (ORa: 1.54, 95% CI: 1.17-2.03). Likewise, after adjustment for anthropometric characteristics and sleep parameters, women also showed higher risk of depression (ORa: 4.31, 95% CI: 3.15-5.89) and anxiety (ORa: 3.18, 95% CI: 2.38-4.26). Conclusions: Our findings suggest that women present a specific OSA phenotype, with a probable implication for clinical, diagnostic, and therapeutic management.

Keywords: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA); personalized medicine; phenotypes; sex differences; women.

MeSH terms

  • Comorbidity
  • Disorders of Excessive Somnolence* / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Polysomnography
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive* / diagnosis
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive* / epidemiology
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders* / epidemiology