Obesity is an increasing epidemic. Not only does obesity decrease the quality of life, but it also increases the risk of developing comorbidities including diabetes, heart disease and sleep apnea. Though sometimes over looked, sleep apnea can be a dangerous disorder. Over the last 20 years the CDC has found a significant increase in hospital discharges for a number of obesity-related medical conditions including sleep apnea discharges, which have increased by 436%.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that is characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing during sleep. Each pause in breathing is referred to as an apnea and can last from a few second to minutes, and may occur 5 to 30 times an hour. There are two main types of sleep apnea, Obstructive and Central.
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form and it occurs when the throat muscles relax. This is also the most common form seen in obese people. Central sleep apnea occurs when your brain doesn’t fire proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. The signs are similar for both types of sleep apnea making it difficult to determine. Some symptoms include:
- Loud snoring
- Episodes of breathing cessation during sleep witnessed by another person
- Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath
- Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
- Morning headaches
- Attention problems
The reason why sleep apnea usually goes hand in hand with obesity is due to the two main risk factors of sleep apnea: excess weight and neck circumference. With excess weight fat deposits around your upper airway may obstruct your breathing and people who have a thicker neck may have a narrower airway resulting in restricted breathing.
What makes this a potentially deadly disease is the way it affects the heart. Due to the infrequency of breath occurring during sleep apnea, blood oxygen levels drop which in turn increases blood pressure and strains the cardiovascular system. The more severe your sleep apnea is, the greater the risk of high blood pressure. If there is underlying heart disease, which is common with obesity, these multiple occurrences of low blood pressure could lead to a cardiac event resulting in death.
Aside from medication, a possible solution for sleep apnea, when related to obesity, is weight-loss surgery. Weight-loss surgery followed by the required life style changes helps patients shed excess weight. This in turn helps lower other risk factors of sleep apnea including high blood pressure. Studies have shown that weight-loss surgery cuts down the instances of apnea commonly taking severe cases down to mild or even nonexistent. A specific study in Australia showed apnea instances dropping from over 20 an hour to fewer than 15, following weight-loss surgery in most of the participants. (Source: Media Page Today)
FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital offers various treatments for sleep apnea including weight-loss surgery. For more information regarding sleep disorder, please call the FirstHealth Sleep Disorders Center nearest you; Montgomery Memorial Hospital – (910) 571-5600, Moore Regional Hospital- (910) 715-3338, or Richmond Memorial Hospital- (910) 417-3952. FirstHealth provides treatment to patients in the Pinehurst, Raeford, Sanford, Lumberton, Laurinburg, Rockingham, and Troy regions of North Carolina and beyond.