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The Link Between Obesity and Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a medical condition that interferes with your ability to breathe normally during sleep. People with OSA may stop breathing hundreds of times a night, and each interruption may be so brief that many people don’t realize it’s happening.

 As many as 9% of American adults have OSA, and nearly three-quarters of OSA sufferers are also overweight or obese. 

Without treatment, OSA can lead to cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, daytime fatigue, and other health problems.

Instead, Katharine Christian, DMD, and the team at The Snoring & Sleep Apnea Center in Seattle, Washington, can help you find a solution to your OSA problems, with state-of-the-art treatments focused on your symptoms, your lifestyle, and your health.

Sleep apnea 101

Obstructive sleep apnea develops when the muscles and soft tissue at the back of your throat relax and collapse or descend into your airway, interfering with normal breathing. Each “episode” may last only a few seconds. 

When your brain senses the lack of oxygen, it triggers a waking response, causing gasping or choking. Sometimes, these episodes are so brief that you may not wake up enough to realize they’re happening. All you’re left with are the telltale symptoms, like:

And of course, if OSA causes snoring, you can also be left with an unhappy sleep partner.

How obesity affects sleep apnea

Of course, one of the best ways to reduce your risks of obesity-related sleep apnea is to lose those excess pounds. But that’s not an easy task, nor is it one that happens overnight. In fact because OSA can effect the hormones that make you hungry and full, you might not be able to shed the extra weight until you treat your sleep apnea.

OSA can occur in people who aren’t obese or owverweight, and not everyone who’s overweight has sleep apnea. However, data show that most people with severe OSA are also overweight or obese.

While the association between OSA and obesity isn’t firmly established, researchers theorize that excess fatty tissue around the neck and throat contribute to OSA symptoms. In fact, people who lose a considerable amount of weight tend to experience a decrease in the “collapsibility” of the upper airway. 

Abdominal fat may also interfere with nighttime breathing by compressing the chest wall and the lungs.

Medical problems like hypothyroidism and polycystic ovary syndrome may also play a role. These conditions are linked with obesity, and they’re associated with higher levels of OSA as well.

Finding the right solution for you

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is one of the most commonly prescribed treatments for OSA sufferers, but it’s not always the best choice. In CPAP, you wear a large mask while sleeping. The mask funnels forced air into your airway during sleep, helping to prevent your airway from collapsing. 

While effective, many people find CPAP devices very uncomfortable, which means they may not use them the way they’re supposed to. If you’re not using your sleep apnea device, then you’re not getting its benefits. 

Dr. Christian offers another solution for patients with sleep apnea: oral devices custom-made for you, so they’re far more comfortable than a cumbersome mask. These devices (or appliances) gently reposition your jaw during sleep, helping to keep your airway open without pumping in forced air. 

When your airway is open, you can breathe normally, so you (and your partner) can finally enjoy a good night’s sleep.

If you’re suffering from sleep apnea or its symptoms, getting treatment is essential for your health. Book an appointment with Dr. Christian by calling the office at 206-905-6998, or use our online form to request a consultation today.

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