By Steven Reinberg
"Controlling for known risk factors for diabetes -- including age, sex, weight, smoking, other medical problems and income status -- patients with severe sleep apnea had a 30 percent higher risk of developing diabetes than those without sleep apnea," said lead researcher Dr. Tetyana Kendzerska. She's with the University of Toronto's Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation.
Kendzerska cautioned, however, that this was an observational study, and cannot prove that sleep apnea causes diabetes. "We are not able to investigate causality, just an association," she explained.
The report was published online June 6 in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
Shelby Freedman Harris, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program and the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, said, "I definitely think that this is an important study highlighting the need for more sleep apnea awareness, screening and treatment."
"Given the large sample size, it further places emphasis on sleep apnea as a predictor of diabetes, and hopefully with earlier intervention, it can greatly impact the health costs for diabetes management as well as improve the outcomes for many patients," she said.
For the study, Kendzerska and her colleagues collected data on 8,678 adults who were diagnosed with sleep apnea between 1994 and 2010 and didn't have diabetes.
The participants were followed through May 2011. During that time 1,017 (11.7 percent) of the patients developed diabetes.