Obesity Surgery May Not End Sleep Apnea

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Often Persists After Weight Loss Surgery, Study Shows

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on August 15, 2008

Aug. 15, 2008 -- Don't count on weight loss surgery to end your obstructive sleep apnea if you're obese.

In obstructive sleep apnea, breathing briefly stops during sleep several times per night. It's common with obesity, but it can affect people who aren't overweight.

A new study shows that obstructive sleep apnea often persists after weight loss surgery, but most patients don't realize that and wind up taking risks with their health.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, included 24 severely obese adults with obstructive sleep apnea. They spent a night at a sleep lab at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., before getting weight loss surgery and again a year later.

The weight loss surgery trimmed average BMI from 51 before surgery to 32 a year later. That means the patients were still obese, but a lot less so than before weight loss (bariatric) surgery.

Even so, only one of the patients no longer had obstructive sleep apnea a year after surgery.

It's not that their sleep apnea was unchanged. Their symptoms eased to varying degrees, but not enough to end their obstructive sleep apnea.

A year after surgery, all of the patients with obstructive sleep apnea still needed continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines to help them breathe better at night. But only six of them were using their CPAP machines.

Why? The patients who reported snoring less were particularly likely to have quit using their CPAP machines, note Walter Reed's Christopher Lettieri, MD, and colleagues.

The study was small, and the findings may not apply to all obstructive sleep apnea patients.

Still, Lettieri's team wants obese obstructive sleep apnea patients to know two things:

  • You're likely to still need sleep apnea treatment after weight loss surgery.
  • No matter what, don't quit your CPAP machine without your doctor's approval and a sleep test to check that your sleep apnea really is gone.

Show Sources


Lettieri, C. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, Aug. 15, 2008; vol 4: pp 333-338.

News release, American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

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