WELLNESS
04/16/2014 08:16 am ET Updated Apr 16, 2014

Sleep Apnea May Raise Osteoporosis Risk

Science Photo Library - STEVE GSCHMEISSNER. via Getty Images

Add this to the number of potential health risks associated with sleep apnea: Osteoporosis.

Researchers from Taiwan found that people diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis, compared with people without the sleep disorder. Obstructive sleep apnea is characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep, leading to disrupted sleep and daytime fatigue.

For the study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 1,377 people in Taiwan who were diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, as well as 20,655 without the sleep disorder, were followed for six years to see who developed osteoporosis.

New cases of osteoporosis were 2.7 times higher among the sleep apnea patients, compared with people without the sleep disorder. This association held true after taking into account other factors such as medical problems, age and gender; the association was stronger in women and older adults.

"Ongoing sleep disruptions caused by obstructive sleep apnea can harm many of the body's systems, including the skeletal system," study researcher Dr. Kai-Jen Tien, M.D., of Chi Mei Medical Center in Tainan, said in a statement. "When sleep apnea periodically deprives the body of oxygen, it can weaken bones and raise the risk of osteoporosis. The progressive condition can lead to bone fractures, increased medical costs, reduced quality of life and even death."

Established risk factors for osteoporosis include being a woman, being older, having a smaller body type, having a family history of the condition, being white or Asian, having low estrogen levels, having low vitamin D or calcium levels, smoking, drinking too much alcohol and not exercising, according to the National Institutes of Health. Known preventive measures against osteoporosis include exercising, not smoking, not drinking too much alcohol and consuming a diet high in vitamin D and calcium.

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