Sleep Apnea, Gout, and Obesity

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Sleep apnea is a disorder in which your breathing gets shallow or you momentarily stop breathing during the night. Each pause in breathing may last 20 seconds or more, and pauses can occur hundreds of times per night. Some researchers think that sleep apnea might lead to gout. However, the truth is that it's still too early to say.

What's the Link?

What scientists do know is that the two conditions are related. The worse your sleep apnea is, the higher the levels of uric acid in your blood. Why? When you have sleep apnea and stop breathing during the night, you deprive your body of oxygen. Low levels of oxygen increase concentrations of purines—substances found in certain foods and in your body's tissues. When purine concentrations are high, so are levels of uric acid, because the body breaks down purines into uric acid.

While a buildup of uric acid doesn't mean you have gout, the disease can develop if uric acid crystals form and collect in your joints, resulting in inflammation.

Obesity May Play a Part

There's something else to consider: the role of obesity in sleep apnea and gout. People who are obese tend to have higher levels of uric acid in the blood, putting them at risk for gout. Meanwhile, excess weight increases the amount of tissue in your throat, which can block your airway during sleep and cause sleep apnea. This means that higher uric acid levels in people with sleep apnea may not be directly related to the sleep apnea. Instead, it may be due to obesity, which raises your risk for both conditions.

What Should You Do?

No matter the cause, if you have sleep apnea, gout, or both, discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Research shows that a treatment for sleep apnea called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), a machine that keeps your airway open during the night, also reduces uric acid levels. What's more, taking steps to lose weight—such as diet modification and exercise—can help improve sleep apnea and gout symptoms. 

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Feb 27

  1. Garcia AR, et al. Blood Uric Acid Levels in Patients with Sleep-Disordered Breathing. Arch Bronconeumol. 2006;42(10):492-500.

  2. Abrams B. Sleep Apnea and Gout. Can Fam Physician. 2009; 55(3): 243–244.

  3. What Causes Sleep Apnea? National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

  4. How Is Sleep Apnea Treated? National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

  5. Questions and Answers About Gout. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease.    

  6. Sleep Apnea. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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