Graduate School of Nursing Dissertations

Publication Date


Document Type

Dissertation, Doctoral


Graduate School of Nursing

Dissertation Committee Chair

Jean Boucher


Sleep Apnea, Obstructive, Women's Health, Emotional Adjustment

Subject Categories

Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms | Mental and Social Health | Nursing | Respiratory Tract Diseases | Women's Health


This qualitative descriptive (QD) study examined the experience of the woman newly diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The study employed Leventhal’s Self- Regulatory Theory to understand women’s illness representation of OSA, cognitive and emotional coping, and situational appraisal skills in coming to terms with OSA. The specific aims were to: 1) Describe the illness representation of women with a recent diagnosis (within one year) of OSA; 2) Describe the cognitive perceptions and emotional response to diagnosis and treatment of OSA in this sample of women; and, 3) Describe the meaning of OSA and the coping strategies used by this sample of women.

The overarching theme of this study of a life-altering diagnosis required participants to process the health threatening information in both a conceptual and concrete process for dealing with both the physical and emotional aspects. The first two subthemes that emerged were Making sense of it, and Making it work as the women came to terms with their symptoms, diagnosis, and adapted to their treatment. For this sample of women, both acceptance (acknowledging the diagnosis of OSA and embracing treatment), and denial (not convinced of diagnosis or need for treatment, seeking alternatives) were factors in how they made sense of the situation. The making it work subtheme dealt with the women’s experiences adapting to treatment both physically and emotionally, including the appraisal, reconsideration and adjustments when they encountered difficulties and delays. A fluid iterative process included women participants describing how they appraised their situation often moving back and forth between acceptance, denial, seeking alternatives, struggling with treatment and moving forward. In both of these subthemes, family support and the stigma of OSA and CPAP were involved in how the women accepted and adapted to treatment. The third subtheme that emerged was Paying it forward as many women felt the obligation to help themselves by adapting a healthier lifestyle for themselves, their families and to assist others impacted by OSA. Women spoke of paying it forward by offering information and support to others not yet diagnosed, or are struggling with diagnosis and treatment. Many of these women were staunch advocates for other women to be tested, for HCPs to be more aware, to be more attuned to women’s sleep history, and to refer women for treatment. Implications of these findings include enhancing recognition and awareness by women of OSA symptoms, the need for diagnostic evaluation, and partner awareness as an important component of diagnosis and successful treatment for women.

Study findings support recognition of women’s presentation of OSA including unusual symptoms for earlier diagnosis and treatment. Sleep partner awareness and support appear to be relevant to women in acceptance of a life altering diagnosis. Further exploration of modifiable factors such as prompt diagnosis and individualized treatment of women with OSA could also impact potential co-morbidities. Provision of further education and awareness by HCPs and insurance companies that women may not present with classic symptoms of OSA is also needed. Targeted interventions specific to women’s experiences with OSA include development of screening tools, care guidelines and treatments that enhance applicability, acceptability, and patient satisfaction. Future advocacy work will also require supporting women in “paying it forward” to help other women diagnosed with OSA.



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© Copyright by Kathleen J. Menard 2015. All Rights Reserved.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.