May 31

The Overlooked Connection Between Sleep Apnea And Stroke

Getting consistent, good quality sleep can be a challenge for many people. For some, it may be from time demands due to family or work. For others, it may be due to health problems that make it difficult to actually fall asleep, like digestive issues or chronic pain. Lastly, staying asleep poses another challenge, and blood sugar imbalances, cortisol levels and mental stress can all be a factor here. The most common, however, seems to be the issue of sleep apnea, and more people are affected by it than may be aware. But if you’ve suffered a stroke, it may be even more important to know whether this is an issue for you or not.

Sleep apnea is defined as a condition in which breathing is repeatedly stopped and restarted throughout the night because of changes in airflow. Obstruction is the most common cause, and frequently it is due to tongue or sinus blockages., leading to decreased air flow to the lungs. Snoring is a common sign that this is occurring, and periods of breathing stoppage can last for several seconds at a time and may even occur more than 30 times per hour!

It is estimated that over 50% of stroke survivors have some type of sleep problem, but enough aren’t getting formally tested according to a review published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke in May. This becomes a concern because sleep disturbances not only increase the risk for an initial stroke, but apnea can become worse after having a stroke, making another incident even more probable. Obstructive sleep apnea appears to be the culprit in more than 70% of stroke survivors. One particular study cited in the review found that this condition leads to a nearly twofold increase in stroke risk for the population as a whole.

The underlying problem with sleep apnea is that it leads to fragmented sleep, never allowing the sufferer to get into the deep REM sleep that allows for the body’s best healing time. For stroke victims, this can slow down the recovery process. Other changes that can occur include:

  • Hypertension
  • Impaired Mental Function
  • Hormonal Imbalances
  • Decreased Immune System Function

The snowball effect then occurs because many of these issues are interconnected. Strokes and high blood pressure each increase the risk for the other. Add obesity to the picture and you have something that increases risk factors for all three. The good news is that many of these risks can be lessened with better lifestyle management. What you do every day with your diet and how you take care of your body can have a powerful effect on changing your overall health picture.

If apnea is present, recommendations will usually be given to start using a CPAP(continuous positive airway pressure) machine. This will at least help to ensure that the body is receiving the oxygen it was being deprived of from the apnea. During that time though, attention should be paid to addressing what caused the apnea in the first place. Does one need to lose weight? Are physical pain issues altering proper sleeping posture? Are reflux issues disrupting sleep patterns?

Focusing on and addressing the root causes of the apnea will offer the best chance for correction in the long-term, and has led to many patients being able to decrease or eliminate the usage of their CPAP. They sleep better, have better energy, think better and typically experience an improved overall quality of life. Every cell in our body needs oxygen to function properly. Deprive it of this, and there’s no telling how many things can go wrong, stroke included. It’s much better to keep the air flowing and the body working properly!


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