PCOS and Sleep Apnea - PCOS Diva
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PCOS and Sleep Apnea

by Amy Medling, founder of PCOS Diva

The NIH Press Call about the PCOS Workshop, reminded me to repost this article I wrote last summer. One of the things mentioned in the call is that women with PCOS who treat their Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) find that their PCOS symptoms subside.  OSA is the involuntary closure of the upper airway which causes one to stop breathing while sleeping. Symptoms of OSA include: chronic loud snoring, gasping/choking episodes during sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness.

It is important to understand the long-term health risks associated with the PCOS. Not all women with PCOS will develop OSA, but having PCOS does increase your risk. While it is clear that increased body weight contributes to this risk, women with PCOS seem to be at high risk as a consequence of other factors in addition to weight. Just last month a study was presented that helped to solidify the connection to these other factors.

David Ehrmann, M.D., of the University of Chicago  found that women with PCOS and OSA are at least three times more likely to have prediabetes, compared to women without PCOS.

“In the last few years, sleep apnea has been found to be a frequent comorbidity [coexisting condition] with PCOS, and our study shows that women who have both conditions are at greatest risk of metabolic disturbances such as prediabetes,” says Dr. Ehrmann. “Patients who have one or both of these conditions should be screened early for type 2 diabetes and should be monitored regularly.”

The study also showed that  blood sugar levels increased as women’s levels of the hormone progesterone decreased. Women with PCOS often have low progesterone levels and Dr. Ehrmann says that low progesterone may play a role in the obstructive sleep apnea.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is now the first-line therapy  for OSA . CPAP is delivered by a machine with a tight-fitting face mask. The good news is that a study recently showed that when using a CPAP women with PCOS can see an improvement in blood pressure, metabolic function and insulin resistance.


Endocrine Society, “Sleep Apnea With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Raises Risk of Prediabetes,” 6/26/2012

Tasali E, Chapotot F, Leproult R, Whitmore H, Ehrmann DA. Treatment of obstructive sleep apnea improves cardiometabolic function in young obese women with polycystic ovary syndrome. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Feb;96(2):365-74. Epub 2010 Dec 1.

Nitsche K, Ehrmann DA. Obstructive sleep apnea and metabolic dysfunction in polycystic ovary syndrome. Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010 Oct;24(5):717-30.

Tasali E, Van Cauter E, Ehrmann DA. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Sleep Med Clin. 2008 Mar;3(1):37-46.

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  1. And this is why I feel that men carry the gene for PCOS. My mother has pcos, she has 5 sisters, and two of her neices has pcos, and another neice has endometriosis. BUT she does not have OSA, nor does she snore, but she did find out when she was 42 that she was diabetic. BUT my father (whom I think his mother had it)he is not diabetic, but his mother was. He snores and has OSA. I do not know if I have OSA, I do not have any type of insurance to check for it, but I assume I do. My father uses the CPAP, and has other pcos type symptoms (besides of course the crazy hormones). My mother and I didnt find out that we had PCOS until I was 18 and she was 42. But I had all these problems that my father had; boils, the weight, and I got my snoring honestly! A few other things, plus of course all the womenly things.

    1. Stacie-
      I have seen studies that have looked into a male version of PCOS and there seems to be one. I agree with you.

  2. I am a patient who suffers from mild to moderate sleep apnea for many years. Due to my snoring problems, my wife had to move to another room to be able to sleep, as she has to wake up very early. Visiting the office of the orthodontist of my sun, I saw the leaflets of an intraoral device for the treatment of sleep apnea and snoring. I talked with the orthodontist about my problems and started the treatment with Orthoapnea. Now my wife and I, we can sleep together again. During the day I feel relaxed at work and indeed it Orthoapnea solved my marriage. Therefore I can only recommend Orthoapnea to all those that have the same problems that I had. http://www.orthoapnea.com