Sleep Apnea Raises Silent Stroke Risk

For many people, enjoying a good night of sleep is something out of a Science Fiction movie and that doesn’t apply just for people with sleep disorders. As if sleeping wasn’t uncomfortable enough for sleep apnea patients, a German research shows that this disease raises the risk of silent strokes.

Jessica Kepplinger, a stroke researcher at the Dresden University in Germany, put together a study that showed sleep apnea is linked to a higher risk of silent stroke. Kepplinger’s findings identified sleep apnea if a large percentage of patients who suffered a stroke. However, there’s still uncertainty regarding whether the relationship is causal.

The study looked at 56 stroke patients, out of which the research showed 91 percent were suffering from some form of sleep apnea (mild, moderate or severe). Patients with severe sleep apnea appeared to be more likely to have silent strokes. Jessica Kepplinger explains:

“Risk factors for stroke such as atrial fibrillation can be treated and others such as smoking can be changed through lifestyle modifications, but sleep apnea is widely neglected as a risk factor that can be changed”.

At the same time the little study showed that the 91 percent of the study participants who had a stroke and some form of sleep apnea were more likely to have silent strokes and white matter lesions on their brains.

At the same time, scientists found out that having more than five episodes of sleep apnea a night is strongly correlated with having silent strokes. Jessica Kepplinger warned that with sleep apnea still “widely unrecognized and still neglected”, patients are at risk since the severity of the disorder “increased the risk of being disabled at hospital discharge” after suffering silent strokes.

Harvard neurologist Lee Schwamm, MD, told “I think what we can say is that breathing problems are more common in stroke patients than suspected”. Particularly since Jessica Kepplinger’s study remains small and preliminary.

Schwamm points out there are some important questions that need answer: “But is abnormal breathing during sleep a long-term problem in these patients? Or will it go away? And is abnormal breathing a risk factor that leads to stroke? Or is it a consequence of stroke?”.

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