Sleep Apnea and Stroke Risk

Missing out on sleep can make us miserable, we all know. Cranky children, snappy adults and feeling drowsy when trying to be productive are all causes of misery, caused in part by lack of sleep. But sleep apnea, a common sleep disorder, can have more serious consequences than falling asleep at work.

Multiple studies have indicated a strong evidence that sleep apnea is a risk for stroke. The Mayo Clinic says that for men, the risk of stroke can be three times higher if a man suffers from sleep apnea.

In one study, Mayo researchers studied the cases of 53 patients over the course of 11 years. Thirty-two of the patients were diagnosed as having obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and the rest became the control group. Among those with OSA, 72 percent had cardioembolic strokes, compared to only a third of the control group.

Furthermore, the researchers found that if the OSA was more severe, the risk of stroke was even higher, and the frequency of stroke rose.

The researchers hypothesized that OSA may cause structural changes in the heart that leads to a greater likelihood of problems. One cause of the problems may be that the body, especially the heart, doesn’t get the rest it would if sleep was normal. In healthy sleep, a person’s systolic blood pressure will drop 10-15 percent, but this isn’t the case for people suffering from sleep apnea. The body must exert itself to get air into the lungs, and oxygen levels aren’t as high as they should be.

After a stroke, many patients experience sleep apnea that may be obstructive type or Central sleep apnea even if they did not have a sleep disorder before. After stroke, sleep apnea may be an underappreciated cause for poor outcome and stroke recurrence. All stroke survivors should be screened for sleep apnea.

The connection between stroke and sleep apnea is yet another reason to consider sleep disorder testing. Various sleep disorder treatments are available which can alleviate numerous symptoms.

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