Sleep apnea is a debilitating condition that causes sufferers to stop breathing multiple times during their sleep. Many people who are diagnosed as simply dying in their sleep are often sufferers of this disorder. There is a definitive link between sleep-apnea and obesity, and bariatric surgery has been shown to be effective in curing the affliction. Can bariatric surgery help with sleep apnea? In short, yes.
What is Sleep-Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a serious disorder in which breathing stops and starts periodically while a person is asleep. Loud snoring is often the first sign that alerts people to the problem, and their doctors often order a sleep study to confirm the diagnosis. People who suffer from apnea often wake up exhausted, even after a full-night’s rest. During an apnea episode, the body stops breathing for a brief moment and wakes itself momentarily to restart respiration. This interruption happens outside of the person’s awareness, so they are often confused when they wake up tired after a seeming full-night’s sleep.
The most common symptoms of sleep-apnea include, but are not limited to:
- Loud snoring
- Gasping for air in your sleep (sleep partners usually report this)
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Waking earlier than desired
- Morning headaches
- Difficulty losing weight despite healthy habits
- Irritability and moodiness
- Falling asleep during the day or a drowsy fog all day
While it is common that sufferers snore, a person can be suffering from the disorder without the snoring. One of the first ways that most people discover they have sleep apnea is the feeling of never being energized after a full-night’s sleep.
Types of Sleep Apnea
The most common form of sleep apnea, OSA occurs when the muscles in the throat relax, making breathing difficult. Because your muscles are relaxed, you cannot take in enough air, lowering the levels of oxygen in your blood. Your body panics, jolting you awake so that you can start breathing normally again. You wake up with a snort or gasp, then gradually fall asleep again. This process happens in a matter of seconds, and most people are not aware that it is happening. These apneas can happen 15-30 times each night, causing major disruptions in your sleep cycle and preventing you from enjoying restful and rejuvenating sleep.(1)
Central Sleep-Apnea (CSA)
This form of apnea happens when the brain doesn’t send the correct signal to the breathing muscles while you are asleep. Your body actually makes no effort to breathe for several seconds. CSA may cause you to have shortness of breath or feel exhausted even after a full night’s sleep.
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
There are several factors that can cause this sleep disorder, but the main indicator that a person will suffer from the condition is obesity. Fat deposits around the airway make it difficult to breathe during sleep. Other risk factors for OSA include:
People with naturally narrow passageways may have difficulty breathing because of the structure of their airways. This is particularly common in people who were born premature or people with small body frames
Gender and age
Men are more likely to suffer from the condition than women, and the condition is more common among middle aged and older adults
Certain medical conditions, like high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and asthma can increase the likelihood of the disorder.
Complications of the Disorder
There are some major health consequences to the disorder, and they can lead to a domino effect of poor health outcomes. They include: (2)
Because the apneas wake you up all night long, it is impossible to enjoy the restorative sleep that your body needs. You may have difficulty concentrating and make mistakes at work. In children, the condition manifests itself as behavioral problems and poor grades in school
High blood pressure or heart problems
The sudden drops in blood oxygen levels can put a strain on the heart, leading to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and stroke
The disorder can lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar and can make weight loss difficult
Sleep deprived partners
Loud snoring can disturb the person’s sleeping partner. The snoring can make it impossible for the person’s spouse or sleeping partner to get a good night’s rest. In many cases, the snorer may be forced to sleep in a different bedroom or wing of the house
How Bariatric Surgery Can be Used to Treat Sleep-Apnea
If you are overweight and suffer from sleep-apnea, you are not alone. More than 12 million Americans are considered obese, and obesity is one of the leading risk factors for the condition. Studies have shown that bariatric surgery is highly effective in treating the apnea, and more than 85 percent of overweight individuals see their symptoms decrease or disappear shortly after surgery.(3)
Doctors typically diagnose the condition is with a sleep study. After the study is conducted, the patient is outfitted with a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine. This machine, which consists of an air blower connected to a mask, pushes the airway open by forcing air into the lungs while you sleep. The force of the air keeps the airway from collapsing. The result is uninterrupted breathing and a restful night’s sleep. The major problem, however, is that the CPAP is a bandage on a larger problem. It treats, but does not cure the problem.
When patients forget to hook up to the machine or they use it improperly, the apnea returns. Studies have shown that fewer than 50 percent of people use their CPAP consistently and correctly. Bariatric surgery, however, has been shown to be an effective treatment for OSA, with more than 85 percent of patients reporting an improvement in symptoms. (4)
Proven Procedures for Treating Sleep-Apnea
There are several weight loss procedures that work well for people looking for lifelong weight control and the elimination of sleep-apnea symptoms.
Laparoscopic Minimally Invasive Procedures
Most weight loss procedures are performed laparoscopically, with the surgeon making a series of tiny incisions instead of large ones that require weeks of healing. The most common weight loss surgery is laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy, in which the surgeon removes the majority of the stomach, creating a slim pouch which resembles a sleeve. This new pouch can only hold a limited amount of food, restricting overeating for life. People who undergo the sleeve gastrectomy report losing up to 75 percent of their excess body weight within the first 18 months following surgery. (5)
Gastric sleeve is often used as a “gateway” surgery for people whose BMI is too high to safely undergo the more invasive gastric bypass procedures. Patients often elect for the sleeve first, dropping the initial weight and lowering their BMI (body mass index) in order to qualify for the roux-en-Y surgery.
Laparoscopic Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass
During the roux-en-Y gastric bypass, most commonly referred to as “bypass,” the surgeon creates a small stomach pouch, connecting the intestine to the pouch, forcing the food to bypass the the first segment of the small intestine and part of the second segment. This drastically reduces the amount of food that the patient can consume, leading to rapid and massive weight loss. As a consequence of this weight loss, the fatty deposits that line the airways are reduced, leading to easier breathing and relief from apnea.
Laparoscopic Adjustable Gastric Banding
The laparoscopic adjustable gastric band is a soft, flexible silicone band that the surgeon places around the top portion of the stomach, creating a small pouch that only allows for small portions of food. The band is meant to stay in place permanently, but is removable if necessary. The surgeon can also control the patient’s weight by tightening or loosening the band to speed or slow loss. The lap band can also be used as a tool to encourage quick weight loss in people who need to lose weight in order to safely undergo gastric bypass surgery.
Sleep-apnea is a debilitating condition that can cause a host of health problems and affect your quality of life. It can disrupt your mood, work performance and memory. Sleep is an integral part of a healthy life, and when your body does not get adequate rest, the exhaustion creates a ripple effect of stress on your heart, brain and major organs. As obesity is one of the main risk factors for sleep-apnea, correcting the obesity through weight loss surgery is one of the best ways to beat the affliction.
Here at Alabama Bariatrics, we have treated many patients who spent years struggling with sleep-apnea before finally seeking help. We offer a range of affordable and effective weight loss procedures that will help you breathe easy and enjoy a healthy and invigorated life. We serve Northern Alabama and Southern Tennessee, and our team is ready to work with you to create a weight loss plan that works for your life. Contact us for a free consultation today.