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June 1 2009 12:00 AM

About 87% of obese patients with type 2 diabetes have undiagnosed sleep apnea, which can lead to serious medical consequences, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health. Sleep apnea is characterized by frequent pauses in breathing and brief interruptions in sleep, which reduces quality of sleep and can lead to daytime fatigue.

Researchers tested 306 obese patients with diabetes for the sleep disorder and found most had sleep apnea but didn't know it. About 30% of them stop breathing between 16 and 20 times per hour during sleep-apnea episodes and 22% had more than 30 episodes an hour, which is considered a severe form.

"Sleep apnea is a serious health problem with significant of medical consequences including increasing the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, motor vehicle accidents and compromised quality of life," says Gary Foster, lead author of the study published in the June issue of Diabetes Care and director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University.

Patients and doctors need to be more aware of under diagnosed sleep apnea among obese patients with diabetes so effective treatments can be prescribed, Foster says.

News release provided by USA Today (