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Weight loss significantly reduces sleep apnea

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

New research shows that weight loss can significantly reduce the number of sleep apnea episodes experienced by individuals diagnosed with the disease. In the first study of its kind, researchers find that patients who lost weight were more than three times more likely to nearly eliminate sleep apnea episodes, compared to those who did not lose weight.

Sleep apnea is highest among overweight and obese individuals, and affects more than 12 million people in the U.S. The sleep AHEAD, looked at 264 obese patients with type 2 diabetes who were already enrolled in another trial called Look AHEAD. The Look AHEAD trial seeks to measure the effect on health of intensive lifestyle modifications in 5,145 obese, type 2 diabetics.

Gary Foster, director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University says, "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 percent - is enough to sufficiently improve sleep apnea."

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Two groups of 264 patients received either behavioral health counseling, portion-controlled diets, and a prescribed exercise regimen of 175 minutes per week, or three informational sessions that took place over a one year period that included social support and education about diabetes management through exercise and diet.

The first group lost an average of 24 pounds and 13.6 percent had completely eliminated sleep apnea. The second group, who only lost about one pound, experienced worsening sleep apnea.

The study showed that weight loss can reduce sleep apnea episodes, and even completely eliminate the problem. Sleep apnea is associated with a number of health risks. The findings also show that sleep apnea can rapidly become worse.

Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(17):1619-1626.