Men who suffer from heart attacks typically complain of chest pain, shortness of breath, and radiating pain from the neck to the left arm. But for women, it’s completely different. A recent study financed by the NIH (and summarized in the New York Times) showed that in the weeks before their heart attacks, 70% of women complained of severe fatigue and 48% reported sleep disturbances. Less than 50% had shortness of breath, anxiety, or indigestion.
Post-menopausal women have a much higher risk of developing heart disease compared with their pre-menopausal peers. We know that obstructive sleep apnea can cause heart disease, and menopause can aggravate sleep-breathing problems. We also know that 90% of women with sleep apnea are not diagnosed. I think it’s safe to assume that many if not most of the women in this study had some degree of a sleep-breathing problem. It’s not surprising that the initial symptoms by women who were about to have heart attacks had mainly sleep-related symptoms. Oddly, these symptoms were called "atypical." Sadly, 90% of women with sleep apnea will continue to go undiagnosed.