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Bariatric Surgery and Sleep Apnea
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by airway obstruction and disturbed airflow. The airway obstruction is usually caused by excessive tissue around the airway and leads to oxygen starvation during the sleep. It is frequently seen in obese individuals and is highest in individuals who are morbidly obese (greater than 100 pounds overweight). Patients have snoring and frequent arousal due to the disturbed breathing. Some patients will even stop breathing during sleep, only to wake up suddenly gasping for air. Many individuals are tired during the daytime with a tendency to fall asleep easily. In the long term, there is a risk for cardiovascular and respiratory complications and even sudden death.
How Is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?
Sleep apnea can be screened for during a medical evaluation with questions and a clinical exam. The diagnosis is confirmed by doing a sleep study, either at home or in a sleep lab.
Treatments are aimed at increasing the space through which the air travels.
Traditional treatments include CPAP and BIPAP machines that allow the airway to stay open for oxygen to flow to the lungs. Oral appliances are also used with the same goal but are more appropriate for mild sleep apnea. Surgical treatments have been used to remove tissue from the airway aiming to increase the airway patency and allow better oxygen flow.
Role of Bariatric Surgery for Treatment of Sleep Apnea
For morbidly obese individuals, weight loss has been shown to provide an effective long-term treatment for sleep apnea. Weight loss leads to a reduction of excess tissue around the airway leading to an increase in patency and better oxygen delivery to the body. Studies have shown that both medical and surgical weight loss have produced significant results in the improvement and elimination of sleep apnea.
Surgical weight loss procedures such as gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy have been shown to produce effective and sustainable weight loss which results in elimination of sleep apnea for many patients undergoing bariatric surgery (weight loss surgery). Many patients are then able to breathe better at night, have improved energy during the daytime, and are able to stop using their CPAP devices.
The results from bariatric surgery are based on using the procedures as a tool and a commitment to lifestyle changes that promote weight loss and healthy living.