Summary: Sleep apnea continues to rob millions of African American women of sleep, which can lead to increased risk of several life-threatening conditions. With African Americans at greater risk of the disorder, the question is being asked; to what degree are African American women at risk?
Hundreds of times every night, millions of African American women stop breathing intermittently during sleep for as much as 20 to 30 seconds at a time. Other than the fatigue and lack of alertness, which are just the daily symptoms, most of those women are unaware that they suffer from a growing serious health risk known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
With long term health risks including a dramatically increased risk of heart attack, stroke, hypertension and even some cancers, an increasing amount of statistical evidence from researchers and all quarters of the health continuum show that African Americans are at a greater risk for OSA. This supports the mounting evidence that an increasing percentage of African American women are at risk of the condition.
OSA and African American women
The severity of sleep apnea is measured in events per hour with the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI). An AHI of less than 5 is considered normal. An AHI of 5-15 is mild; 15-30 is moderate and more than 30 events per hour are considered severe sleep apnea.
While the American Sleep Apnea Association says that about 70 percent of people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are overweight or obese, many women of color within normal weight parameters suffer from the disorder. However, a 2004 study sponsored by the National Institute of Health did find shared and unshared genetic factors that may affect the risk of both obesity and sleep apnea in African Americans.
Like most health conditions, OSA has not received the same level of study in African Americans and particularly African American women as with Caucasians. However, one of the first studies was profiled by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine that showed middle aged, pre-menopausal African American women to be more likely to suffer from OSA symptoms than their white counterparts.
Although awareness of OSA in the African American community is growing, there continues to be a marked lack of women that take the initiative to be screened for the disorder. Melissa Bynes Brooks, the Clinical Coordinator of Broward Health Coral Springs Sleep Disorders Center and editor of Brooks Sleep Review recently penned an article with some startling statistics regarding African Americans and OSA. The article entitled
“Why Are Black People Dying in Their Sleep” discussed a community-based sample of 421 Black patients referred by their private care physicians where only 38 percent followed the recommendation for a sleep consultation.
Currently, the gold standard treatment for OSA is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy. CPAP therapy requires the patient to wear a mask that is connected to a
CPAP machine that supplies a regulated stream of air to the sleeping patient. This serves to increase the flow of oxygen and reduce the apnea events as well as reduce the short-term and long-term health risks of OSA.
According to a recent study, 93 percent of women and 82 percent of men with moderate to severe OSA have not been clinically diagnosed. Research also shows that nearly 80 percent of African Americans suffer from sleep disorder symptoms. Of those African Americans that do get diagnosed and start CPAP therapy, compliance remains a significant roadblock.
A recent article urging African American CPAP Compliance was one of an increasing number urging them to utilize the life-saving therapy.
Spreading the good news for health
Famous African Americans are beginning to do their part as well. As part of the Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine’s
expanded online OSA information repository on OSA, Shaquille O’Neal who suffers from sleep apnea, has included an informational video on the disorder aimed at African Americans.
OSA affects an estimated 15 million to 20 million Americans, as well as millions more who remain undiagnosed and untreated. Sleep apnea robs the body and the brain of sufficient oxygen, which in the short-term manifests itself in daytime sleepiness, fatigue, brain fog, and headaches. While these symptoms can clearly be improved for most people with OSA that utilize CPAP masks and machines, the brain itself can also be positively affected.
Although there are clearly many people and experts from all quarters sounding the alarm for African American women regarding OSA, the lack of significant widespread studies keeps the disorder off of the radar of the millions of black women that are living with the symptoms of OSA and the higher long-term health risks that it brings.
Outreach regarding the tools and tactics that benefit the health of African American women is clearly working overall as the life expectancy and overall health of this significant sector of society improves in many ways. Increased diligence and communication to spread the word regarding OSA is the key to helping African American women help themselves to lead healthier, longer, more productive and happier lives.
E. Victor Brown is a freelance writer specializing in health and health technology and its effects on the health of African Americans. His research and writing has covered Sleep Disorder Breathing, OSA and by extension, the technology and use of a CPAP Machine and CPAP Masks as part of effective therapy for African Americans and other populations.
Thinking of the many blessings in our life is a guaranteed feel-good activity. Keeping a gratitude journal helps us to focus on what we are thankful for on a more regular and consistent basis.
Today, this is what my gratitude list would look like:
I am thankful for:
Your turn-what are you grateful for today?
Note: a nice book that I have owned for many years to keep a gratitude journal is The Simple Abundance of Gratitude by Sarah Ban Breathnach. At the start of the book she has a list of 150 often overlooked blessings. There is plenty of room for each day of the year to write down what you are thankful for. I started mine back in 1998 and keep adding entries each year in the side margins or wherever I can find the space. It is fun to reflect back on the richness of my blessed life during its many varied stages and experiences.
Have a blessed day. I am thankful for all of you, dear Warm Milk Journal readers!
Debra : )