Q&A Topic: Sleep Apnea and Obesity
Mitchell S. Roslin, MD, FACS, FASMBS
Q. What is obstructive sleep apnea?
A. Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder in which a person’s breathing is interrupted repeatedly throughout the night as they sleep, sometimes hundreds of times. Obesity is the biggest cause of obstructive sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea is very common in people with severe obesity. People with obstructive sleep apnea snore, don’t get enough air, and awaken to oxygenate. As a result, they hardly ever achieve a good night of sleep. In order to be healthy, a quality sleep cycle is essential.
Q. Is there a link between obstructive sleep apnea, obesity, and an inability to lose weight?
A. Absolutely, it’s a vicious cycle. Studies show that individuals who work night shifts frequently have abnormal sleep patterns. Aside from being fatigued, this group also finds it more difficult to be active and exercise. Furthermore, altered sleep makes poor food choices more likely – these people tend to eat foods higher in fat and carbohydrates. This promotes weight gain and obesity. In those with severe or morbid obesity, the vast majority have a degree of obstructive sleep apnea.
Q. What are the potential short and long term dangers to obstructive sleep apnea?
A. When people don’t get enough sleep at night, they suffer from chronic hypoxia or lack of oxygen which can impact memory and cognition. These individuals are not as productive at work and there’s also a high degree of absenteeism. In the long term, blocked airways which lead to pulmonary hypertension may put a strain on the heart, cause arrhythmias or even result in sudden death.
Q. What treatments are available for obstructive sleep apnea?
A. Some patients employ a sleep apnea device to breathe more easily during sleep. These machines are meant to increase pressure in the throat so that the airway doesn’t collapse when an individual breathes in. The problem is that so few people use them continuously. Furthermore, sleep apnea devices don’t address the underlying obesity which is causing and contributing to the obstructive sleep apnea.
Surgical weight loss for those with moderate and severe sleep apnea with a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than 35 is the preferred method. A BMI of 35 indicates an individual who is severely obese. At Northern Westchester Hospital, our team meets individually with each patient to recommend the best option. We offer several procedures, including the Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy, the Modified Duodenal Switch/SIPS Procedure, and the Laparoscopic Gastric Bypass.
Q. How soon do your surgical patients notice a difference in their sleep patterns after surgery?
A. Patients notice a difference in their sleep patterns very quickly after surgery. When you lose 20 to 30 lbs in one month, the change is profound. Within six months, a patient can lose 50 to 60 lbs and 10 BMI units. Most sleep apnea symptoms will disappear and patients will no longer need their sleep apnea devices.
Learn More about Dr. Roslin
Director, Bariatric Surgery
Northern Westchester Hospital
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