A senior man sleeping in bed.Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that affects millions of Americans, and many people don’t even realize they have it. People suffering from sleep apnea experience multiple sleep disruptions at night when they stop breathing. Although sleep apnea itself is nonfatal, it has been linked to increasing the risk of other conditions such as diabetes and heart failure. Studies have also found that sleep apnea, especially obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), increases the risk of stroke. A recent 20-year follow-up study published in The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that sufferers of sleep apnea are four times as likely to experience a stroke than people without sleep apnea.

Understanding Strokes

A stroke occurs when the blood flow to part of the brain is interrupted, depriving the brain of vital oxygen and killing off brain cells. Strokes are often the result of ruptured blood vessels in the brain or occur when blood vessels to the brain become narrow or blocked. Signs of a stroke usually include numbness and muscle weakness on one side of the body, loss of motor control, and difficulty speaking. Strokes can be fatal, especially for people who have already suffered a stroke in the past.

Increased Blood Pressure

With sleep apnea, your body experiences frequent periods of low blood-oxygen levels. This triggers a series of responses in your body that can lead to hypertension, high blood pressure. People with high blood pressure run a higher risk of experiencing a stroke due to interrupted blood flow to the brain.

Cardioembolic Stroke

Cardioembolic strokes are generally one of the more severe types of stroke. These strokes, caused by cardiac conditions, typically leave long-lasting damage, have a high mortality rate, and increase the risk of reoccurrences. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic studied the records of 53 patients who had polysomnography (a type of sleep study) at Mayo Clinic between 2000 and 2011 who had also experienced a stroke within one year of the study. Of these cases, 32 had OSA and were considered as “cases” while 21 did not have OSA and were studied as controls. They found that 71.9 percent of the OSA cases experienced cardioembolic stroke compared to 33.3 percent in the control group. On top of that, 84 percent of the OSA group had at least one risk factor for cardioembolic stroke compared to just 52 percent in the control group.

Treating Your Sleep Apnea

Even if you feel like snoring and daytime tiredness are not terribly detrimental to your life, the less visible results of sleep apnea may be putting your life in danger. Sleep apnea treatment can help to decrease your risk.

After a sleep physician positively diagnoses you with sleep apnea, your sleep apnea treatment can begin. Your treatment will be tailored to your needs. Whether you need behavioral changes, oral sleep apnea appliances, or the assistance of a CPAP machine, your sleep will improve. When your body gets the rest that it needs, your overall health will also improve.

For more information about sleep apnea treatment in Denver or to schedule an appointment, please call (303) 691-0267 for an appointment with a Denver sleep dentist at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado.