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Sleep services target women

York Hospital's Sleep Service is marking International Women's Day on 8 March by raising awareness of a common sleep disorder which often goes undiagnosed in women.

Obstructive sleep apnoea occurs when the throat narrows during sleep and causes breathing to be interrupted. Sufferers can stop breathing hundreds of times each night. Fortunately the body senses that breathing is blocked and people wake up only to go back to sleep and continue the cycle. This results in poor sleep quality that makes people tired during the day and it is one of the leading causes of excessive daytime sleepiness.

Sleep apnoea affects both men and women, but women are more reluctant to seek help from their GP when they experience symptoms such as snoring and disrupted sleep. As a result they are less likely to be diagnosed and treated.

Jaynie Pateraki, sleep service specialist nurse, said: "We are very concerned that many more men than women are diagnosed with the condition, often because the person's partner has read an article on it and recognises the signs. Unfortunately women are not coming forward, possibly because they don't realise they have the condition or they are too embarrassed to speak to their GP about their symptoms.

"It can really interfere with people's activities and affect their performance at work, sometimes to the point where they can lose their job. It can also cause sleepiness while driving - sleep apnoea sufferers are about seven times more likely to have a car crash.

"The good news is that the condition can be treated successfully and people report that their lives have been transformed after treatment. Anyone who has symptoms that include snoring, extreme daytime tiredness, reduced concentration, morning headaches and disrupted sleep should speak to their GP and ask about referral to one of our sleep clinics."

Margaret Dawson, 62, from York was so severely affected by sleep apnoea that she believes she wouldn't be here today without the help of the sleep clinic. Her condition had reached the level where she was falling asleep mid conversation, breathless, and losing weight. The symptoms had appeared a couple of years after the death of her husband and Margaret's family feared she had given up on life.

Eventually Margaret was admitted to York hospital where she stayed for six weeks under the watchful eye of the sleep service specialists.

Margaret said: "It was a big relief to me and my family when I was diagnosed with sleep apnoea so quickly. I had reached the stage where my heart was actually stopping and I would gasp for breath and that would jolt me awake. That was going on quite a few times each night. When I woke up on a morning, it felt like I had never been to sleep.

"It took a while to get my treatment sorted out but now I feel absolutely great. For the last nine years I have been wearing a special mask that helps me breath normally through the night and I am now as active as ever.

"Jaynie and the team have been absolutely fantastic. I still see my consultant every six months and attend the clinic every year even though I've had no problems."

Dame Helena Shovelton, Chief Executive of British Lung Foundation said: "Raising awareness of obstructive sleep apnoea among women is an important part in bringing this condition into the general public's consciousness. Sleep apnoea is a treatable condition that can have serious consequences if left undiagnosed, and we welcome York Hospital's drive to target a part of the population that might not normally view themselves as being at risk."

More information can be found at the sleep services information stand in York Hospital's foyer on Thursday 8 March.

15 March 2012

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