Sadly, the Chicago Bears defensive end Gaines Adams died of a cardiac arrest during sleep early this morning. Preliminary reports state that he had an enlarged heart. He was only 26 years old. There are many reasons for an enlarged heart but one major risk factor Adams had was his build. He was 6' 5" and 260 pounds which gives him a BMI of 30.8, which is in the obese range. Furthermore, just like many NFL players, he had large neck muscles that probably pressed on his upper airway.
A study of NFL players in 2003 showed that about 14% overall and 34% of all linemen had obstructive sleep apnea. Reggie White, the Hall of Fame Linebacker, was thought to have died from complications of untreated obstructive sleep apnea.
There are certain sports that are probably at higher risk for sleep apnea, including football, body building, and weight lifting. All three involve bulky neck muscles, created intentionally, or indirectly. The human upper airway is unprotected in the throat area, so any enlargement of soft tissues, whether fat or muscle, can press on the airway and make the passageways smaller. One way to compensate for the fatigue that develops is to work out harder, eat better and train smarter. Over time, however, the soft tissues stay collapsed, and no amount of weight loss will completely cure the problem.
I've always stated that all football players, serious weight lifters and bodybuilders should be screened for obstructive sleep apnea. Once diagnosed and treated, who knows how much better they will be able to perform? What do you think about this issue? Should certain athletes and professions (long distance truck drivers, pilots, etc.) be routinely screened? Please enter your opinion in the comments box below.