Sleep apnoea is a risk factor for strokes

“Sleep apnoea is one step removed from the heart attack or stroke — it’s what the sleep apnoea does to the circulatory system and heart that causes the stroke,”

Dr. Belen Esparis, who is the Medical Director of the Mount Sinai Medical Centre for Sleep Disorders in Miami, USA, has seen many patients who have been in car accidents after falling asleep at the wheel, and others who have developed abnormal heart rhythm, and they all have one thing in common. They all suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea, a common sleep disorder characterized by interruptions in breathing during sleep, which can occur as many as 100 times per hour.

Team of doctor running in a hospital hallway with a patient in a bed

This sleeping disorder mostly affects people aged 40 and older, often who are overweight. More men than women suffer from the sleeping disorder, but it becomes more common amongst both sexes as they age.  It can however be found in younger people – and even children and teenagers.

Sleep apnoea is known to cause a range of cardiovascular, neurological and behavioural problems, including high blood pressure, heart attacks, poor memory, Diabetes Type II, lack of concentration and depression.

It is also known to be a serious risk factor for strokes.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted, depriving the brain of the vital oxygen supply. A stroke may of course be caused by a narrowed or blocked artery supplying blood to the brain or by a burst blood vessel in the brain.

The interruptions in breathing that characterize sleep apnoea also lead to low oxygen levels in the blood and brain.

“Sleep apnoea triggers a series of responses in the body as a result of low oxygen levels,” Dr. Esparis said. “One of them is hypertension — an increase in blood pressure.”

Hypertension associated with sleep apnoea occurs because of the strain that low oxygen levels in the blood and brain place on the cardiovascular system. As high blood pressure is an independent risk for stroke, sleep apnoea becomes an indirect cause of stroke.

It is important to note that the effect of sleep apnoea on the circulatory system and all the bodily processes associated with low oxygen levels and hypertension will not put people at risk for stroke from one day to the next. It takes several years or even decades of all these things running in the background to make a stroke happen.

To eliminate the potential for strokes and other risks associated with low oxygen levels in the body, sleep apnoea must be treated. In extreme cases, continuous positive airway pressure machines, known as CPAP, use nose masks and a hose connected to the machine to deliver pressurized air to the lungs throughout the night.

For overweight patients who are at risk – or who suffer from less extreme forms of sleep apnoea, the medically recommended route is to use oral appliance therapy and not CPAP, which many patients dislike.

For mild to moderate cases of sleep apnoea, specially fitted mouthpieces such as the SleepPro Custom are available without prescription and these will eliminate snoring and apnoea problems immediately. They will also feel comfortable as they are custom fitted to the shape of your mouth and will allow you to sleep well. Couple this new found sleep regime with a simple programme of weight loss and the whole problem of sleep apnoea and the associated health problems will stop and is even reversible.

By John Redfern