Sleep apnea and stroke

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Sleep apnea is a sleep condition in which abnormal breathing patterns occur during sleep. Those who are living with sleep apnea can have multiple extended pauses in their breath while they’re asleep. These lapses in breathing can lead to lower quality sleep and affect the body’s supply of oxygen which can have potentially serious health consequences. In the United States, it is one of the most common forms of sleep disorders, affecting both children, adults, and people of both sexes, though it is most common in men.  It’s estimated that between 2-9% of adults suffer from sleep apnea, though it is believed that many cases go undiagnosed. Sleep apnea can occur at any age but it is most common in older adults. Although the prevalence of sleep apnea in the United States has decreased in recent years it is still a constant in many parts of the world and in some cases is on the rise. 

Obstructive sleep apnea is often overlooked as a condition that can not only raise someone’s risk of experiencing a stroke, but it can also make recovery more difficult. As it stands, only a small number of stroke survivors are ever screened for obstructive sleep apnea. As more and more research reinforces the causal relationship between sleep apnea and stroke it becomes even more important for stroke survivors to be screened for sleep apnea. When a stroke patient is evaluated and underlying conditions are examined for their role in causing the stroke in the first place, sleep apnea is often not included in the guidelines for what conditions should be examined. 

There are several risk factors for stroke that are often caused by obstructive sleep apnea, such as cardiovascular diseases. People who are living with obstructive sleep apnea are four times as likely to develop atrial fibrillation and a two to three times higher risk of other complex arrhythmias. It’s also been suggested that obstructive sleep apnea could be a risk factor on it’s own in contributing to stroke risk. 

Because sleep apnea does increase the risk of a stroke, whether it’s directly or indirectly, stroke patients whose obstructive sleep apnea goes untreated may have worse functional outcomes and a higher mortality rate after acute stroke. Having obstructive sleep apnea is associated with needing even more assistance following a stroke. Research has shown that stroke patients with obstructive sleep apnea ended up needing to remain in the hospital longer and took more time to complete rehabilitation than those who did not have sleep apnea. 

Obstructive sleep apnea has the potential to cause a number of different conditions, from smaller daily inconveniences to more serious health consequences. As a result, it is so important to talk to your doctor if you think you may be experiencing symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. Dr. Fox and her team at Fox Dental Sleep can also work with your doctor to find the best way to address your sleep apnea. If you’re someone who’s already had experience with CPAP and are looking for an alternative, we may be able to help as well! Contact us today to schedule a visit.