Zepbound and Mounjaro Might Help Reduce Obstructive Sleep Apnea Symptoms

This content originally appeared on Everyday Health. Republished with permission.

By Lisa Rapaport

Key Takeaways

Tirzepatide, the active ingredient in Mounjaro and Zepbound, reduced sleep apnea symptoms for people with obesity.
The drug improved sleep apnea symptoms whether or not people used a PAP machine.
Drugmaker Eli Lilly plans to seek FDA approval for tirzepatide as a treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.

Tirzepatide, the main ingredient in the injected weight loss and diabetes drugs Zepbound and Mounjaro, might help reduce obstructive sleep apnea symptoms, preliminary results from two late-stage studies suggest.

Both of the studies tested tirzepatide in people with obesity and obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that causes brief episodes of fully or partially halted breathing throughout the night that is often exacerbated by excess weight. Participants were randomly assigned to take either tirzepatide or a placebo for one year.

In one study of people with sleep apnea who didn’t use breathing devices at night, the number of apnea episodes dropped by 55 percent after one year with tirzepatide, compared with 5 percent on placebo, according to preliminary study results reported by drugmaker Eli Lilly that haven’t been published or independently verified.[1]

Results were similar for patients who wore what’s known as a positive airway pressure (PAP) machine at night with a mask that blows air into the upper airways to help support normal breathing. For people with apnea who used a PAP machine, apnea episodes declined by 63 percent after a year compared with about 6 percent with the placebo.

Tirzepatide Causes Weight Loss, Which Improves Sleep Apnea

“It’s not surprising that tirzepatide would help — tirzepatide causes weight loss and weight loss improves sleep apnea,” says Susan Spratt, MD, a professor of endocrinology at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, who wasn’t involved in either of the studies.

“I think what’s surprising is the amount that tirzepatide reduced the symptoms of sleep apnea,” Dr. Spratt says.

People with apnea who weren’t on PAP therapy lost an average of 18 percent of their body weight after one year on tirzepatide, according to the results reported by Eli Lilly. People on PAP treatments who took tirzepatide lost 20 percent of their body weight on average.

What’s remarkable about these preliminary results is that the amount of weight loss achieved after one year with tirzepatide is much greater than what is typically achieved with lifestyle changes like eating less or exercising more or with weight loss surgery, says Eric Landsness, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of neurology and sleep medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Weight Plays a Role in Sleep Apnea

“I’m not surprised by the magnitude of obstructive sleep apnea change,” says Dr. Landsess, who wasn’t involved in either of the studies. “I think this is really a testament to how much weight plays a role in the severity of obstructive sleep apnea.”

Side effects of tirzepatide were mild to moderate in severity and most often included gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and constipation, according to Eli Lilly.

Eli Lilly to Seek FDA Approval for Tirezepatide as Treatment for Sleep Apnea

Tirzepatide is the first drug in a new family of medicines that target two hormones — glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP) — that are involved in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and sending signals from the gut to the brain when people are full.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved one drug made with tirzepatide, Mounjaro, to treat type 2 diabetes, and another one, Zepbound, for weight loss. But many patients without type 2 diabetes have struggled to get insurance coverage for these medicines, Spratt says.

Based on results from the two studies, the company said it plans to seek FDA approval this year to sell tirzepatide as a treatment for moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea.

“If tirzepatide is approved by the FDA, it will definitely be a game changer,” Spratt says.

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Tirzepatide Reduced Sleep Apnea Severity by Up to Nearly Two-Thirds in Adults With Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Obesity. Eli Lilly. April 17, 2024.

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