Resolving sleep apnea sets the stage for bariatric success

GERMANTOWN, Pa. (WPVI) -- Solving one health problem often improves other medical issues.

That's especially true with bariatric surgery.

Losing excess weight decreases arthritis, diabetes, and reflux. And it can dramatically improve sleep apnea.

"I couldn't even walk a block. I couldn't even make it from my house to the corner to go to the store. That's how heavy I had gotten," recalls 44-year-old Autumn Boswell of Germantown.

Back pain, and mounting weight from inactivity had Boswell nearly housebound.

"Like everything I did in the house, I sat in the chair - wash dishes in the chair, swept the floor in a chair," Boswell notes.

She'd also developed severe sleep apnea, leaving her exhausted.

"I could get up and take my daughter to school and then come back and go to sleep for hours," she recalls. "I just never felt like I had any rest at night."

Her snoring was so loud, "Everybody would try to go to sleep before me."

At 320 pounds on her 5-foot 3-inch frame, Boswell says she finally decided she needed bariatric surgery.

"I had school-aged children at home. And I wanted to be able to see them graduate from high school, possibly college. And I want to live the life that I used to have," she explains.

She was also developing high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Dr. Neil King of Temple Health says all bariatric surgery patients are screened for sleep apnea, and with good cause.

"In my practice, and the literature supports this, probably somewhere between 60 and 90% of patients who are looking to have bariatric surgery have sleep apnea," says Dr. King, adding, "The weight of your actual chest and abdomen kind of limit your ability to breathe."

"You also accumulate fatty tissue around your neck area, and also tongue, and that predisposes the airway to collapse during sleep," adds Dr. Maria Elena Vega-Sanchez, a pulmonologist and sleep specialist with the Temple Lung Center.

Dr. Vega-Sanchez says untreated sleep apnea also increases complications after weight-loss surgery.

Plus, she adds, "Individuals can't remember things, they have a hard time concentrating and retaining information. And they're also sleepy and at risk of having motor vehicle accidents."

Boswell took to the CPAP right away.

"I loved it - I was rested," Boswell says enthusiastically. "I thought it was the best thing ever."

Giving up cigarettes, and changing her eating habits were the hardest part before surgery.

But after her surgery in November 2020, the changes came quickly.

"All of this looked different like in a week," says Boswell , motioning under her jaw, to her neck.

"I could wear a necklace. I hadn't worn a necklace in years," she says with a big smile.

In a year, she's dropped more than a hundred pounds, bringing back her old energy.

She's been to Las Vegas, Florida, and Atlantic City, and on a host of daytrips.

And she's happy she had the surgery.

"All I can say is, it's going to change your life. But you have to be willing to do the work first, in order to get it," Boswell notes.

And her sleep apnea went from severe, with more than 80 episodes and hour, to so few episodes, she doesn't need her CPAP for sleeping.

Doctors King and Vega say there's no guarantee every bariatric patient can stop CPAP, but the surgery almost always significantly improves sleep apnea.
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