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Which Comes First, the Apnea or the Obesity? New research suggests a complicated link.


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Obese patients with sleep apnea are often told that their weight gain caused the apnea. This can often send them into a shame spiral, where they reject treatment because they blame themselves for their condition. However, research is beginning to suggest that the link between obesity and apnea is more complicated. In fact, treating apnea may help promote weight loss in obese patients.

A study presented in March 2019 found that over the course of a 4-month study, participants who complied with BPAP or CPAP therapy lost an average of 5.7 pounds more than those who did not.  The researchers think that improved sleep quality may have caused hormonal changes that promoted healthy weight loss when combined with diet and exercise.

This study is especially important for people who suffer from sleep apnea and who can’t seem to lose weight with diet and exercise alone.  Proper sleep apnea treatment may allow them to lose weight and improve their blood sugar, blood pressure, and other symptoms.

Practitioners may want to use this information to encourage CPAP compliance.  While it can be hard to motivate people by pointing out long-term side effects, many patients want to lose weight in the near term and may work harder at compliance so that they can meet their weight loss goals.

One good way to approach the issue without offending patients is through posters/flyers with messages like “Did you know CPAP compliance can help you lose weight? Sleep breathing affects your hormones and how your body processes food!”   By keeping the messaging positive, you can nudge your patients to make the connection, comply with their CPAP or BPAP plan, lose weight, and improve biomarkers.

If you’re interested in more ways that your practice can promote whole-body health by addressing patients’ sleep issues, consider taking one of Dr. Dassani’s sleep seminars! You’ll learn how to introduce sleep apnea identification and treatments into your practice so that your patients can improve their health.