The American College of Physicians (ACP) is now recommending weight loss as an effective solution for anyone suffering from sleep apnea. Researchers have identified a common link between rising obesity statistics and sleep apnea.

"Obesity is a risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea and the evidence indicates that intensive weight loss interventions help improve sleep study results and symptoms of OSA," said Molly Cooke, M.D., president of the ACP. "Plus, losing extra weight is associated with many other health benefits."

According to the ACP, people with sleep apnea stop breathing during sleep for around 10 seconds at least five times per hour. Sleep apnea is deemed more common among individuals who smoke or drink alcohol in excess. The most common type of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), is caused by airway blockage.

Although the ACP states that over 18 million adults in the U.S. suffer from sleep apnea, 80 to 90 percent of cases go undiagnosed. Sleep apnea increases a person's risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and daytime sleepiness. Symptoms include loud snoring, headaches throughout the day, mood swings, memory loss, trouble concentrating, and depression.

Cooke and her colleagues from the ACP’s Clinical Guidelines Committee also recommend a mandibular advancement device (MAD) as an alternative treatment for sleep apnea. The device, designed like a mouth guard, helps to sooth people who snore, especially those with sleep apnea. A custom MAD that is fitted by your dentist could cost around $2,000 to $3,500. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is also recommended for initial therapy.

"The evidence shows that a mandibular advancement device can effectively improve sleep study results and sleepiness. However, CPAP more effectively raised the minimum oxygen saturation compared to MAD," Cooke added. "Physicians should stress the importance of compliance with treatments, especially CPAP. Doctors should weigh patient preferences and the likelihood of therapy adherence against costs before initiating CPAP treatment."

Researchers from the ACP conducted a systematic review of studies from 1966 to October 2012, MedPage Today reported. The review was sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Source: Qaseem A, Holty J, Owens D, Dallas P, Starkey M, Shekelle P. Management of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Adults: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of Physicians. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2013.