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sleep apnea blood sugarNew research indicates that there may be a link between obstructive sleep apnea and high blood sugar.  The study, which used data from the European Sleep Apnea Database (ESADA) found that sleep apnea is independently predictive of poor glycemic health regardless of the presence of other factors.  The findings were recently published in the European Respiratory Journal.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder that causes the person to stop breathing during sleep.  These pauses in breathing are called apneas and they can last from several seconds to 10 minutes or more.  Previous research has linked sleep apnea with serious health conditions including diabetes but it can be challenging to isolate the distinct relationship between sleep apnea and other conditions because of commonly co-existing health conditions like obesity that can contribute to the same health problems.  The goal of this study was to isolate the relationship between sleep apnea and elevated blood sugar.

The team used data from the ESADA to isolate 5,294 participants who had sleep apnea but who did not have diabetes.  They looked at their sleep apnea symptoms and gauged the severity of the disorder.  They also looked at the level of glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) in their blood.  This shows the average blood sugar level over time.   A higher level of HbA1c in the blood indicates problems with blood sugar management.  People with diabetes often have higher HbA1c level than people who do not have the disease and increased levels indicate an increased risk for heart disease.

Their findings indicate a relationship between the severity of a person’s sleep apnea and their HbA1c levels; the more severe the sleep apnea, the higher the HbA1c level.   The same was true on the opposite end; those with the least severe sleep apnea had the lowest hbA1c levels.  Most importantly, the results were the same even after the team accounted for other factors common to both conditions like obesity.   These findings indicate that there may be a link between sleep apnea and diabetes.  They also support previously published research which demonstrated the sleep apnea is predictive of Type 2 diabetes and linked to HbA1c levels.

Understanding the link between sleep apnea, blood sugar management, and diabetes will help researchers identify new ways to treat these problems earlier in the hopes of preventing people from developing diabetes and decreasing the risk of cardiovascular problems.    In the near term, these findings provide additional information physicians can use to diagnose, monitor, and treat their patients.  In this case, the findings indicate that those with sleep apnea should be tested for diabetes, have their blood sugar levels monitored, and take preventative action to prevent a diabetes diagnosis.