Sleep apnea is a disorder in which a person’s breathing stops and starts over and over again during sleep. Symptoms include loud snoring, restless nights and sleepiness during the day. It’s not uncommon, but a lot of people, including diabetes patients, don’t know they have it. It’s been estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea and that 80% of cases of moderate and severe sleep apnea go undiagnosed.
The researchers, who were from the University of Surrey, collected information on 1,275,462 adults from a large British research database. In the area of diabetes, they classified the subjects into one of three categories: type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes and no diabetes. In the area of weight, they classified the subjects into one of six categories: underweight, normal weight, overweight and one of three obesity groups as measured by BMI (body-mass index), with the “highest obesity class” at the top.
Because obesity is a signicant risk factor for both sleep apnea and diabetes, the researchers expected to find that diabetes patients in the highest obesity class would be more likely to develop sleep apnea. That did turn out to be the case, but what else they learned surprised them. Patients in not just one, but four, of the six original categories were at higher risk for sleep apnea — patients who were either classified as overweight or were placed in any of the three obese classes. As the researchers put it, “Obstructive sleep apnea was reported in people with both types of diabetes across the range of overweight categories and not simply in the highest obesity class.” In addition, sleep apnea, they found, was more likely in men than in women.
The researchers drew two main conclusions. First, they advised health-care professionals to “actively question” their diabetes patients, especially men, about possible apnea symptoms. Second, they stressed the need to recommend weight-reduction plans “for a large proportion of the population with diabetes.” According to study author Simon de Lusignan, BSc, there is a need for “more intensive treatment strategies to assist with weight reduction in all obesity groups, including those classified as overweight as well as those classified with degrees of obesity.”
A freelance writer and editor based in the Chicago area, Gustaitis has a degree in journalism from Columbia University.