The excess weight that leads to a diagnosis of obesity or morbid obesity, according to the Body Mass Index (BMI), is also responsible for a series of problems in the body and organ systems. Due to unhealthy weight, the body experiences additional stress, causing the development of additional diseases, or comorbidities. These related health complications include respiratory conditions, such as obstructive sleep apnea, a common disease that involves the incapacity to properly breathe while sleeping.
Development of Sleep Apnea by Obese Patients
Sleep apnea is characterized by the repetitive interruption of the normal breathing for about 10 seconds during sleep, causing a reduction in the oxygen available in the blood. The apnea may or may not wake the patients during the episodes, but it always causes situations of bodily stress. The most frequent cause for the development of the disease in adults is obesity, due to the development of soft tissue present in the mouth and throat.
While patients are sleeping, the muscles in the throat and tongue are more relaxed and the soft tissue may block the airways, causing an episode. 18 million Americans are estimated to suffer from sleep apnea, a disease that when untreated can have severe consequences, leading to cardiovascular disease, accidents and premature death.
Obesity-Related Sleep Apnea Prevention
As patients gain weight, the probability of suffering from sleep apnea is higher, particularly the ones who accumulate fat in areas of the trunk and neck. Other important indicators to be aware of are loud snoring and repeated nighttime awakenings followed by excessive daytime sleepiness. When patients experience these kinds of symptoms, it is recommended that they discuss it with their physician.
The correlation between obesity and sleep apnea is a vicious circle, since obesity is responsible for sleeping and respiratory problems, while sleep deprivation can cause obesity. Therefore, the best way to prevent sleep apnea is through a healthy diet and regular physical exercise, in addition to being aware of the potential signs.
Sleep Apnea Treatment by Obese Patients
The best method for treating sleep apnea is to address its underlying cause, which in this case is obesity. Healthy diet and exercise will both help patients lose weight and manage the symptoms of sleep apnea. In addition, there are continuous positive nasal airway pressure treatments that help manage the symptoms of the disease.
The study “Interactions Between Obesity and Obstructive Sleep Apnea” published in March, 2010 revealed that weight loss brings significant health benefits not only on sleep apnea severity, but also to lessen the cardiometabolic consequences related to both sleep apnea and obesity. However, since weight loss through diet, exercise, and/or medications was hard to achieve and maintain for study participants, the researchers also believe that bariatric surgery may be a helpful alternative treatment in cases of severe or complicated obesity.