Treating Sleep Apnea Through Weight Loss

Can Weight Loss Cure Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, can kill you.  When a person with obstructive sleep apnea is asleep, their airway becomes intermittently occluded, or “blocked off”, resulting in them being unable to breathe.  Of course, they are asleep at the time, so when their body is struggling to breathe they don’t know it.  It can be frightening to watch a person with OSA as their body chokes against a blocked airway, trying to get the next breath of air, over-and-over throughout the night.

While struggling to breathe, the oxygen level will drop, sometimes to a dangerously low level, and their CO2 level will rise to a toxic level causing acidosis, or a high level of acid in their bloodstream.  The low levels of oxygen result in chronic headaches due to the brain not getting enough oxygen, and the repeated effort to breathe during the night often results in a tired feeling throughout the next day.  Over time these processes cause damage to the heart and other organs with one of the worst results being a heart attack during the night.

Obesity is the #1 Known Cause for Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obesity is the number one known cause of obstructive sleep apnea and all patients with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 should take a sleep apnea screening survey.  Other signs of OSA include chronic snoring, morning headaches, daytime sleepiness, and a spouse or friend reporting that the person struggles to breathe while they sleep.  Anyone with a high probability for OSA should undergo formal sleep apnea testing.

The standard treatment for OSA involves wearing a specially fitted mask at night while sleeping, which blows air while they breathe in.  This dramatically decreases inappropriate airway occlusion or apnea.  The person sleeps better at night, is safer, and has more energy during the day.  For people whose obstructive sleep apnea is due to excess weight, weight loss is always recommended.  Significant weight loss will often result in a dramatic improvement in apnea, and sometimes even cure it.  For the improvement to last, of course, the weight loss must be permanent, and in many patients, surgery offers the best hope.