The Silent Connection between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes


Diabetes, also called Diabetes Mellitus, is a group of metabolic diseases that occur due to the impaired functioning of the insulin hormone. When a healthy individual eats food, the pancreas (an organ located behind the stomach) releases sufficient insulin to help the body use the fat and sugar. This ability is impaired in a person with diabetes. As a result, the person may develop high blood glucose levels, have frequent urination and may become increasingly hungry and or thirsty.

According to a 2004 study published in Diabetes Care by Wild et. al, India has the highest number of people living with diabetes, followed by China and the United States. This same study predicts that by 2030, the number of diabetes cases worldwide will jump from 171 million to 366 million, with the maximum increase in India (79.4 million).

Diabetes is a lifelong condition. Many people are not aware that they may have it. Presently, there is no cure for Diabetes, the only way is to manage the disease.

Types of Diabetes

Diabetes is classified into two types based on how the insulin hormone function is affected:

Type 1

This form of diabetes is often referred to as insulin-dependent, early-onset or juvenile diabetes. A person develops type 1 diabetes before turning 40, usually in the teen years or early adulthood stage. Type 1 diabetes is far less common than type 2. A person with type 1 diabetes will be required to take insulin injections for their entire life. Regular monitoring of blood glucose levels and following a special diet are keys to maintaining good health.

Type 2

In this form of diabetes, the individual may either have cells which respond poorly to insulin (insulin resistance) or their body does not produce sufficient quantities of insulin for healthy functioning.

Most people are able to control their diabetes by adhering to a special diet, losing weight, performing exercise and regularly monitoring blood sugar levels. Nevertheless, type 2 diabetes is a progressive illness which only worsens with time. At some point in time, the person may have to take insulin in tablet form.

People who are obese or overweight are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Excess weight forces the body to deliver chemicals which may destabilize the metabolic and cardiovascular systems.  

According to the World Health Organization, up to 90% of all diabetes cases fall in the type 2 category.

Symptoms of Diabetes

Symptoms in type 1 diabetes may occur suddenly. These include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Increased hunger
  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Labored breathing

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes may be same as above but most often symptoms are absent or develop gradually over time. These may include:

  • Slow-to-heal cuts
  • Yeast infections
  • Tingling in feet and hands
  • Erectile dysfunction or impotence
  • Recent weight gain

Type 2 Diabetes and Sleep Apnea

There is growing evidence indicating that individuals with sleep apnea (a condition with disturbed sleep patterns) are at a higher risk for developing T2D. According to a study examining the link between sleep apnea and diabetes, 40% of sleep apnea sufferers have diabetes. Frequent disruption in a person’s breathing causes the body to release stress hormones, which further elevates blood glucose level. The end result is uncontrollable diabetes, often accompanied by high blood pressure. The symptoms of sleep apnea and Type 2 diabetes may resemble each other in the following ways:

  • Feeling lethargic in the morning
  • Lack of energy
  • Irritability

Seeking CPAP treatment for sleep apnea can drastically improve the symptoms related to Type 2 diabetes and have as much a positive impact as oral anti-diabetic medications. CPAP treatment can benefit diabetics by:

  • Delaying or preventing the progression of Type 2 diabetes
  • Reducing diabetic complications
  • Improving daytime glucose and energy control
  • Reducing the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

If you are currently experiencing disturbed sleep patterns or are exhibiting any of these symptoms of diabetes, please visit a sleep physician in your city.

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