Closeup of older woman sleeping in bed

It is estimated that 56% of people aged 65 and older are at high risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In addition to age, OSA is linked to being overweight. Two recent studies moved the needle in obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) treatment and management.

One study revealed that tirzepatide, a drug initially created to treat diabetes, may be the first effective medication for sleep apnea. Researchers from the University of California San Diego and other international teams tested tirzepatide on 469 study participants who were overweight and had moderate to severe sleep apnea.

The results were promising. People who took tirzepatide had fewer breathing pauses during sleep compared to those who took a placebo. Some improved enough to discuss discontinuing their CPAP machine with their physician. In addition, some study participants taking the drug lost weight.

In a second study, conducted by the Cleveland Clinic, researchers concluded that weight loss surgery can significantly reduce the risk of heart complications and death in patients with obesity and obstructive sleep apnea. The research, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, examined 13,657 patients over a 10-year period.

The study found that patients who underwent bariatric surgery had a 42% lower risk of major adverse cardiovascular events and a 37% lower risk of death compared to those who did not have the surgery. After 10 years, 27% of the surgery group experienced major cardiovascular events, versus 35.6% in the nonsurgical group.

Surgical patients lost an average of 73.2 pounds and maintained a 25% weight loss for up to a decade. In contrast, nonsurgical patients lost an average of 14.6 pounds.

Ali Aminian, MD, the study’s primary investigator, emphasized the link between weight loss and cardiovascular benefits in sleep apnea patients. The findings support current guidelines recommending weight loss for managing obstructive sleep apnea. However, the study suggests that more effective weight loss methods, such as bariatric surgery, may be necessary to improve cardiovascular outcomes and survival rates in this patient group.