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Could This Disease Be A Hidden Consequence Of Sleep Apnea?

Could sleep apnea increase risk of osteoporosis

If you’re one of the millions of people worldwide who suffers from sleep apnea, you may be at an increased risk for osteoporosis.

A new study suggests that obstructive sleep apnea -- which causes repeated, brief interruptions in breathing during sleep -- could raise the risk of the bone disease, especially in women and older individuals.

Researchers from Chi Mei Medical Center in Tainan, Taiwan, analyzed the medical records of nearly 1,400 people diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea between 2000 and 2008, and compared them with over 20,600 who did not have the sleep disorder. In the six years of follow-up, the researchers found that people with sleep apnea were 2.7 times more likely to be diagnosed with osteoporosis. The study was published April15 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

"Ongoing sleep disruptions caused by obstructive sleep apnea can harm many of the body's systems, including the skeletal system," said study co-author Dr. Kai-Jen Tien.

"When sleep apnea periodically deprives the body of oxygen, it can weaken bones and raise the risk of osteoporosis," Tien said. "The progressive condition can lead to bone fractures, increased medical costs, reduced quality of life and even death."

Fortunately, there are several ways to treat sleep apnea, ranging from lifestyle changes to surgery.

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Change your sleeping position

If you sleep on your back, try sleeping on your side instead to keep your throat open. There are special pillows you can buy that will prevent you from rolling over on your back during the night, or you can put a tennis ball in a sock and pin it to your shirt. If you turn over on your back, the uncomfortable feeling will likely make you turn on your side.

Lose weight

Roughly 70 percent of people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea are overweight or obese. The extra weight can bulk up tissues in and around the airway, making it more vulnerable to collapse as the muscles relax during sleep. Finnish researchers found that losing as little as five percent of body weight seemed to lead to a significant improvement in the symptoms of sleep apnea.

Avoid alcohol before bedtime

Alcohol decreases muscle tone in the upper airway, and makes it especially collapsible. People suffering from sleep apnea often stop breathing more frequently and for longer periods after drinking, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Quit smoking

Smokers are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea than non-smokers. Because cigarette smoke is an irritant, it can cause the airway to narrow or become inflamed over time.


Surgery generally becomes an option only after other treatments have failed. If, after at least three months of other treatments, your sleep apnea does not improve, there are several different operations. The most common is a uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP), in which a doctor removes tissue from the rear of the mouth and top of the throat. The tonsils and adenoids may be removed as well. Another surgery is jaw repositioning, which is when the jaw is moved forward, enlarging the space behind the tongue and soft palate.

Oral appliances

There are several oral appliances available that are designed to keep the throat open during sleep. A dentist or orthodontist can make a custom-fitted mouthpiece that will move the lower jaw forward to help keep the airways open.