Can Losing Weight Cure Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea patients are often told to lose weight. As you may be aware, that’s easier said than done. Although you don’t have to be overweight to have sleep apnea, the vast majority are overweight or obese. One recent large scale population study showed that a 10% drop in body weight was associated with a 30% drop in the apnea hypopnea index (the AHI, which is what’s used to measure how severity of sleep apnea). 


A more recent study looked at this issue again and found some mixed, but promising results. Twelve patients, mostly obese women, with an average BMI of 36 and an average AHI of 24.6 were enrolled in a 16 week diet an exercise program. Everyone in the study lost a significant amount of weight (except one), with an average drop of 8.3 Kg (about 18 pounds), but the drop in AHI was somewhat disappointing. The average AHI drop was 6.6%, and it was not statistically significant. Of all the patients that underwent post-treatment sleep studies, 40% had an AHI that increased. Many of the patients did improve subjectively with regard to how they felt and how much they snored, as well as with many of their metabolic markers on blood tests.


What this shows is that weight loss alone (although important) should not be the only form of therapy for obstructive sleep apnea. However, since every patient is different, treatment options should be customized to patient needs and responses to conservative treatments.


If you have sleep apnea, has weight loss helped you feel better? Did it lower your AHI or improve your snoring?

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