By Susan Chow, PhD, ELS
Although there is no cure for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the prognosis for patients is very good if properly treated and managed. For mild OSA, the first line of treatment may include lifestyle changes such as losing weight, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol consumption.
One study has shown that even modest weight loss (10% reduction in body weight) can lessen the number of apnea or hypopnea episodes per hour and lead to improved sleep.
For moderate-to-severe OSA, lifestyle changes are typically combined with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).
CPAP therapy uses continuous air pressure to keep the upper airway open in order to reduce or prevent episodes of apnea and hypopnea. CPAP is effective in minimizing sleep interruptions, thereby improving quality of sleep and decreasing daytime fatigue.
This can lead to increased daytime function, improved memory and concentration, reduced moodiness, and increased safety, especially while operating a motor vehicle. CPAP has also been shown to reduce hypertension, a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Losing weight while on CPAP therapy can be even more beneficial. One study found that CPAP combined with weight loss lead to further reductions in blood pressure as compared with either CPAP or weight loss alone.
Prognosis for Untreated Obstructed Sleep Apnea
OSA can be a serious, life-threatening condition if left untreated. The repeated stops and starts in breathing throughout the sleep period elevates blood pressure and causes stress on the heart, leading to increased risk of heart attack, heart failure, coronary artery disease, and stroke.
One study found that people with OSA are at a significantly increased risk of suffering stroke and death. In addition, because of the strong link between OSA and obesity, people with OSA are also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, a serious condition associated with regulation of blood glucose.
The chronic fatigue associated with OSA affects a patient’s ability to perform routine daytime functions and puts them at risk for driving accidents.
Prognosis in Children
The prognosis for OSA in children is also very good if properly treated. OSA in children is commonly caused by enlarged adenoids or tonsils, and the surgical removal of these tissues is a typical treatment option.
Although surgery can be effective, recent evidence suggests that in some cases children may outgrow the condition on their own, without the need for surgical intervention.
One study found that nearly 42% of children diagnosed with OSA no longer met the criteria for having OSA (AHI score of <2) after a 7-month watch and wait period.
Children with a normal waist circumference and a low initial AHI score may be more likely to outgrow OSA.
Last Updated: Apr 9, 2015