During the previous two decades the diagnosis and treatment of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) has become increasingly common. Today, predominantly overweight men who snore (the most common demographic diagnosed with OSA) no longer have to experience the numerous serious detrimental health consequences associated with the frequent disruptions of breathing during sleep associated with sleep apnea. Such complications include heart attacks, glaucoma, diabetes, cancer and cognitive and behavioral disorders. While OSA traditionally affects overweight males, a lesser known but related sleep disorder debilitates thin women. Upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) is a form of sleep- disordered breathing in which less air is allowed into the lungs because some part of the airway is too narrow.
In UARS, a petite body type is a risk factor because smaller bodies have smaller airways. Interestingly, while high blood pressure is associated with OSA, the opposite is true in UARS, in which blood pressure can be so low that it leads to fainting and cold extremities. While a women suffering from UARS may or may not snore, they usually complain of severe fatigue and chronic insomnia. Several conditions have been associated with UARS, including anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, irritable bowel syndrome, ADHD and fibromyalgia. UARS has been dubbed “pretty girl sleep disorder” by some, as it is generally seen most frequently in women with narrow jaws and noses, characteristics often associated with beauty.
Polysomnograms are commonly used to diagnose UARS. Although the symptoms of UARS and generally slightly less severe than OSA, treatment is typically still indicated. In mild cases simple lifestyle changes may be adequate for relief. However, most cases typically require more advance treatments such as CPAP or dental devices. CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) works by stenting open the airway with continuous pressure thus reducing airway resistance. Oral appliances work to protrude the tongue and lower jaw thus opening up the airway.
If you or someone you know suspect a diagnosis of OSA or UARS, you should contact your physician to determine if a sleep study is needed. Any treatment first requires a diagnosis from a sleep study.
Your In Health,
Robert M. Davis, DDS, JD