Obesity Could Be the Culprit Behind U.S. Sleep Apnea Increases

Yahoo Contributor Network

The findings of a new study point to the U.S. obesity epidemic as a potential culprit in the increases in sleep apnea rates. The relatively small study looked only at subjects in Wisconsin.

According to PsychCentral, the lead author of the University of Wisconsin-Madison study, Paul Peppard, Ph.D., estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of an increase in sleep apnea symptoms is likely due to increasing obesity in the United States.

Sleep apnea is a fairly common sleep disorder marked by short breathing interruptions while the patient sleeps, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says. Episodes occur throughout the night and typically at least 10 seconds each.

The disorder occurs more often in men than in women and in obese or overweight individuals. It has been linked to elevated risk for heart and blood pressure problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly 36 percent of U.S. adults are obese.

The Wisconsin team estimates that 4 to 5 million individuals are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea due to obesity. They indicate that within the last two decades, sleep apnea cases rose up to 55 percent, increases that might apply nationwide.

Findings from the study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, stated that the study followed 1,520 subjects. The team estimated the prevalence of breathing linked to sleep disorders across the country by utilizing data from the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study, which began in 1988.

The study included randomly selected participants who were employed Wisconsin adults. All were between 30 and 70 years old. Almost all were Caucasian. Researchers did not attempt to define cause and effect.

The scientists estimated that 10 percent of males aged 30 to 49 have sleep apnea symptoms. Among those between 50 and 70, the percentage jumps to 17. They estimate 3 percent for women between 30 and 49 and 9 percent for those aged 50 to 70. In all groups, heavier individuals were far more likely to have sleep apnea.

For at least 10 years, I badgered my doctors about sleep studies. I was a loud snorer who had been overweight my whole life and sometimes obese. I also had a short neck and seemed a typical sleep apnea sufferer except for being female.

I eventually persuaded a new physician to send me for sleep studies. Of the five patients there, I was the only woman.

The tests showed that I had moderate obstructive sleep apnea. Several factors precluded my using the standard treatment for the disorder, a forced-air machine, so I concentrated on altering my sleep positions and shedding some pounds. I'm due to repeat tests soon, and it will be interesting to see how losing weight has helped. I have no doubt that obesity could be a culprit behind increases in sleep apnea rates.

Vonda J. Sines has published thousands or print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.

View Comments (23)