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Nutr Clin Pract. 2009 Dec;24(6):675-87. doi: 10.1177/0884533609351532.

Sleep-disordered breathing and obesity: pathophysiology, complications, and treatment.

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  • 1Pharmacy Practice Division, School of Pharmacy, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53705, USA.


Sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) is a medical condition that has increasingly recognized adverse health effects. Obesity is the primary risk factor for the development of SDB and contributes to cardiovascular and metabolic abnormalities in this population. However, accumulating evidence suggests that SDB may be related to the development of these abnormalities independent of obesity. Periodic apneas and hypopneas during sleep result in intermittent hypoxemia, arousals, and sleep disturbances. These pathophysiologic characteristics of SDB are likely mechanisms underlying cardiovascular and metabolic abnormalities including hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases, altered adipokines, inflammatory cytokines, insulin resistance, and glucose intolerance. Treatment of SDB with continuous positive airway pressure reverses some but not all of these abnormalities; however, studies to date have demonstrated inconsistent findings. Weight loss strategies, including diet, exercise, medications, and bariatric surgery, have been evaluated as a treatment strategy for SDB. In preliminary studies, dietary intervention and exercise reduced severity of SDB. One study demonstrated improvements in SDB severity using the weight-reducing medication sibutramine. In morbidly obese subjects, bariatric surgery effectively induces weight loss and improvement in SDB severity and symptoms, but long-term benefits remain uncertain. Large randomized trials are required to determine the utility of these strategies as long-term approaches to improving SDB and reducing associated complications.

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