Do You Have Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

It raises fasting blood sugars. It increases the risk for type 2 diabetes. Millions of people suffer from it. And many don’t even know they have it.

Meet obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA.

If you have the disorder, you’re not breathing properly while you sleep because your airflow is blocked repeatedly throughout the night. Nearly one in four men and one in ten women suffer from it. (There are a couple of other varieties, but OSA is the most common.) And it goes hand-in-hand with type 2 diabetes. In a survey on the subject, Gary D. Foster, PhD, wrote that, “among all of the sleep disorders, OSA has the strongest association with type 2 diabetes.”  That’s even taking into account other risk factors, such as weight, sex and age.

The main risk factor for OSA is obesity. “Excess weight deposits extra fat around the thorax, reducing chest compliance and functional capacity, while increasing oxygen demand,” wrote Foster, a professor of medicine and public health and the Director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University. Foster has found that 86 percent of obese patients with type 2 diabetes have undiagnosed sleep apnea; 33.4 percent had mild OSA, 30.5 percent had moderate, and 22 percent had severe. Further studies have suggested that untreated OSA has a negative effect on blood glucose control. It’s also linked to depression, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and a multitude of other health problems.

So how do you know if you have sleep apnea? A doctor will look at your medical history, and a physical and a sleep study will be required. The good news is that OSA can be treated easily and successfully. The prime therapy is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), a small breathing device with a mask that you wear over your mouth and nose. The device pushes air into your throat while you sleep. Researchers have also looked into the effects of simply losing weight. Such studies have been limited so far, but they look promising.

Foster finished his overview by recommending that doctors stay alert for cases of obstructive sleep apnea as obesity and type 2 diabetes spread, noting that “clinicians should increase patients’ awareness of the signs and symptoms of OSA and refer for sleep studies when appropriate.”

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