Deaths from cardiovascular problems were more frequent in women who had apnea that was not treated, especially when it was severe. Those who were treated with CPAP had cardiovascular disease death rates similar to those without apnea.
Of the 41 deaths from cardiovascular disease, 18 were in the group with severe and untreated apnea, while 8 of those with severe but treated apnea died of cardiovascular problems during the follow-up.
"We have provided the first evidence in the [medical] literature that severe OSA is associated with cardiovascular mortality in women, and that CPAP treatment is associated with a decrease in mortality risk," Campos-Rodriguez said.
CPAP treatment delivers a pre-set level of pressurized air through a mask that the patient wears during sleep. Because apnea is a chronic disorder, in most cases the CPAP is a lifelong treatment, Campos-Rodriguez said.
Patients can find the mask uncomfortable at first, but most get used to it quickly, he said. It provides relief from the tiredness that plagues most patients.
A scan of prices offered on commercial websites finds that masks are sold online by U.S. companies from about $60 to $200; the machines sell for $120 to $5,000 or more.
National insurance covers the systems in Spain, Campos-Rodriguez said.
In the United States, coverage by insurance plans is typical, said Dr. Linda Dahl, an ear-nose-throat specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
The study results show that ''sleep apnea is a significant disease in women as well as men," she said. If the condition is suspected, evaluation is crucial and treatment is necessary if it is diagnosed.
The new study, Dahl said, will probably change awareness among doctors and patients, as apnea is often thought to be a man's problem.
Dahl tells her pati
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