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Relationship Between Sleep Apnea and Thyroid Dysfunction

October 20, 2023

Sleep apnea is a very common condition characterized by interruptions in breathing while sleeping, which can cause oxygen deficiency. There are two primary types of sleep apnea:

OSA: Obstructive sleep apnea is when there is a blockage in the upper airway, which reduces or stops airflow. This is most common in patients with thyroid disorders due to the swelling of the thyroid.

CSA: Central sleep apnea is a condition in which the brain fails to signal the muscles that control breathing. 

Hormonal imbalances can contribute to both OSA and CSA. For example, changes in thyroid levels, growth hormone, and insulin can have an impact on the size and shape of your tongue, airway, or face, which increases your risk of OSA. In addition, hormonal imbalances can impact how your brain controls breathing, which increases your risk of CSA.

According to research, there seems to be a link between thyroid dysfunction and sleep apnea. In fact, the risk of sleep apnea is much higher in patients with hypothyroidism and up to 25% of patients with this condition have been diagnosed with OSA.

Quality Sleep Solutions offers alternatives to CPAP and other traditional sleep apnea treatments. This article explains the relationship between sleep apnea and thyroid dysfunction.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is characterized by interruptions in breathing while sleeping lasting for 10 seconds or more. This is a serious condition that has been linked to hypertension, which is the leading cause of heart disease.  

The most common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Dry mouth/sore throat
  • Loud snoring
  • Gasping for air/choking sounds while sleeping
  • Waking up during the night to go to the bathroom
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Irritability
  • Morning headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Mood changes

If you have any of the above symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention.

Will Thyroid Medication Improve Sleep Apnea?

Some patients with hypothyroidism experience an improvement in sleep apnea when taking medications, while others do not. A 2016 study revealed that thyroid medication may improve symptoms of OSA, but will not likely reverse it completely, especially if there are other factors such as obesity that contribute to OSA.

However, patients with CSA are likely to see a significant improvement in their symptoms when taking thyroid medication.

How is Sleep Apnea Treated?

The most common treatment for sleep apnea is CPAP, which stands for continuous positive airway pressure. A CPAP machine provides constant air pressure, which keeps your airway open while you are breathing in. There may also be some alternatives to CPAP based on your specific type of sleep apnea.

In some cases, steroid nasal sprays can help keep the nasal passages moisturized and open. These are most helpful in patients with nasal allergies.

In addition, there are some lifestyle changes that patients can make to improve their symptoms. These changes will not only improve sleep apnea symptoms but will also improve thyroid and overall health. These changes include:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy BMI
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Quitting smoking
  • Establishing healthy sleep habits

In some cases, surgery is the best option. The most common surgeries used to treat sleep apnea include:

  • Tissue removal, which involves the removal of tissue from the rear of the mouth and top of the throat. In most cases, the tonsils and adenoids will also be removed at this time.
  • Tissue shrinkage, which involves shrinking the tissue at the rear of the mouth and top of the throat. This procedure has fewer risks and similar results as tissue removal.
  • Jaw repositioning, which involves moving the lower jaw forward to enlarge the space behind the tongue and soft palate.
  • Nerve stimulation, which involves the implantation of a stimulator for the hypoglossal nerve to keep the tongue in a position that keeps the airway open.

Tracheostomy, which is the creation of a new airway. This is a last resort surgery after other treatments and surgical interventions have failed.

Thyroid and Sleep Apnea FAQs

If you have questions about thyroid conditions and sleep apnea, the team at Quality Sleep Solutions can help. We understand sleep apnea and its causes. We can help you get your sleep apnea under control so you can get the sleep you need.

Sleep apnea is common in patients with hypothyroidism. Most of the time, patients have OSA, due to the enlargement of the thyroid.

Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune condition that usually leads to a reduction in thyroid hormone production, leading to hypothyroidism. This condition has been linked to sleep apnea. While it is unclear whether one condition causes the other, research indicates that up to 66% of patients with Hashimoto’s also have sleep apnea.

Patients with OSA are more likely to develop metabolic and endocrine disorders including osteoporosis, hypogonadism, and hypercortisolism. Sleep apnea has also been linked to type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.

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