Diabetes: Links with Sleep Apnea

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Diabetes: Links with Sleep Apnea




Host:  Medical University of South Carolina


Welcome to this month’s Diabetes Care newsletter.  Our topic is diabetes and sleep apnea linked.  Here’s a wake-up call to the millions of American men and women with type 2 diabetes.  Snoring at night or nodding off during the day may be symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea.  Sleep apnea affects one out of three people with diabetes.  Based on evidence linking the two disorders, health experts are asking doctors to assess their diabetic patients for sleep apnea symptoms.  They are also asking that sleep apnea patients be screened for metabolic disease. 


The recommendation comes from the International Diabetes Federation Task Force on Epidemiology and Prevention.  Dr. Jonathan Shaw, who heads the task force, says it’s probably too early to see any concrete evidence of changes in doctors’ practice.  But, he says, there is increased awareness of the importance of screening people with diabetes and people with sleep apnea. 


Sleep apnea occurs when a person’s airway becomes blocked during sleep.  It’s usually caused by collapse of soft tissue in the back of the throat during sleep.  Between snores, breathing stops for a period of ten seconds or longer.  This pattern may repeat itself multiple times over the course of a night.  Not only does it deprive the person of a good night’s sleep, but it may increase the risk for high blood pressure and heart disease.  Obstructive sleep apnea affects just two percent of women and four percent of men in the general population.  But it’s much more prevalent among people with diabetes. 


In a recent report in the journal Endocrine Practice, researchers looked at data from 279 men and women with type 2 diabetes.  Overall, 36 percent had obstructive sleep apnea.  Men with diabetes were most vulnerable.  Men younger than age 45 had a more than one third increased chance of developing sleep apnea.  After age 65, the risk doubled.  For women younger than 45, the chances of having sleep apnea were slim, between five percent and eight percent.  Females 65 and older, however, had a one third increased chance of having the sleep disorder.


Dr. Daniel Einhorn says diagnosing and treating sleep apnea is critical to successfully managing a patient’s diabetes.  He notes that successful treatment of sleep apnea is the single most effective action you can do to improve blood sugar.  Previous research has also shown that people with mild to moderate sleep apnea were twice as likely to develop high blood pressure compared to those without the sleep disorder.  Those with severe sleep apnea were three times as likely to have high blood pressure.  Still, experts say further research into the diabetes/sleep apnea connection is needed.


Dr. Einhorn is conducting a follow-up study to find easier, less expensive and more readily available methods of diagnosing sleep apnea.  Currently, an overnight study in a sleep lab is used to diagnose sleep apnea, so a large scale screening would be too costly, says Dr. Einhorn.


For more information, always consult your doctor.  Thank you for listening.  Please visit our website for more information on health and wellness topics

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