Most Obese Diabetics Suffer from Sleep Apnea

The vast majority of obese type 2 diabetics have some form of sleep apnea, but are rarely diagnosed, says a recent study. Past research has linked sleep apnea to cardiovascular disease (CVD), so this study perhaps further explains the well-established links between obesity, diabetes and CVD.

Sleep apnea, which is characterized by irregular and paused breathing during sleep, is known to be most common in obese individuals. More than 50% of obese adults also suffer from diabetes, and all three of these conditions greatly increase risk for CVD, especially when undiagnosed or untreated. The current study found a whopping 87% of obese diabetics suffer from sleep apnea.

306 obese diabetics participated in the study, which was a sub-study in a more comprehensive research program, known as the “Look AHEAD trial.” Polysomnograms, which monitor breathing and brain activity during sleep, were performed on each participant, and questionnaires were filled out to determine normal sleep behavior.

Of the 265 participants diagnosed with sleep apnea, more than 50% had rather serious cases. 30% of the 265 obese diabetics with sleep apnea had 16-20 “episodes” per hour, and 22% had 30 or more episodes, which characterizes “severe” sleep apnea. The more severe cases, in general, were related to higher body mass index (BMI), as well.

While the general conclusion, that obese diabetics suffer from a high incidence of sleep apnea, is not particularly surprising, the overwhelming percentages uncovered in this study make the findings significant. Concludes lead author Dr. Gary Foster, “The high prevalence of undiagnosed, and therefore, untreated sleep apnea among obese patients with diabetes constitutes a serious public health problem. Doctors who have obese patients with type 2 diabetes need to be aware of the possibility of sleep apnea, even if no symptoms are present, especially in cases where the patient has a high BMI or waist circumference.”

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Foster, Gary. Cree, Renee. Diabetes Care news release. May 2009.