More than 12 million people in the U.S. suffer from sleep apnea, most common among the overweight and obese. More than just loud snoring, it can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, cardiovascular disease and a poor quality of life.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. Each episode, called an apnea lasts long enough so that one or more breaths are missed, and such episodes occur repeatedly throughout sleep.
Regardless of type, the individual with sleep apnea is rarely aware of having difficulty breathing, even upon awakening. Sleep apnea is recognized as a problem by others witnessing the individual during episodes or is suspected because of its effects on the body. Symptoms may be present for years (or even decades) without identification, during which time the sufferer may become conditioned to the daytime sleepiness and fatigue associated with significant levels of sleep disturbance.
For years, doctors have told patients with sleep apnea that the best they could do to lessen apnea episodes would be to lose weight, but there's been very little research-based evidence to prove that.
"Existing research has been limited by a number of factors, so there are very few studies that show whether the recommended amount of weight loss – about 10 % - is enough to sufficiently improve sleep apnea," said Gary Foster, director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education.
Foster and colleagues from six other universities recently completed the largest randomized study on the effects of weight loss on sleep apnea in patients with type 2 diabetes. They discovered that among patients with severe sleep apnea, those who lost the recommended weight were three times more likely to nearly eliminate the number of sleep apnea episodes compared to those who did not lose weight. The results are published in the Sept. 28 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Science Daily contributed to the report.