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    Sleep Apnea May Increase Your Risk for Stroke

    Posted: June 23, 2021

    Did you know sleep apnea (S.A.) can increase your risk for a stroke? S.A. is a common condition, but many people aren’t aware of the health risks associated with untreated S.A. One of these risks include a higher risk for stroke. Strokes are the second leading cause of death in the U.S., second only to heart disease. Strokes are also a leading cause of disability for adults in the U.S. Therefore, it’s important to understand your risks for stroke to help you take care of your health. 

    What is a Stroke?

    First, let’s go over what a stroke is. A stroke occurs when your brain can’t get the blood and oxygen it needs. Without blood and oxygen, brain cells begin to die. There are a few different ways this can happen, but the most common is known as an ischemic stroke. Ischemic strokes account for 87% of all strokes. 

    An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot or artery plaque blocks a blood vessel to your brain. This blood clot can form in another part of the body and travel to the brain, or can form in a blood vessel that leads to the brain.

    Some of the risk factors for ischemic stroke include:

    • High blood pressure
    • Atherosclerosis
    • A Fib (irregular heart beat)
    • Diabetes
    • Overweight or obesity
    • High cholesterol

    S.A. is another common condition that can increase your risk for stroke, particularly when left untreated. An estimated 70% of stroke patients have S.A. While S.A. can be an after-effect of a stroke, it can also be a risk factor. 

    Sleep Apnea Increases Your Risk for Stroke

    man yawning at work due to sleep apnea

    Sleep apnea can cause more than just fatigue, it may also increase your risk for stroke.

    S.A. is a common sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing during the night. Your body responds to the lack of oxygen from these pauses in breathing by waking you up to take a breath. This might include releasing stress hormones and increasing high blood pressure to help wake you from sleep. It can take a toll on your body in numerous ways, including on your brain and cardiovascular system. 

    Several studies have looked at the link between stroke and sleep apnea. In fact, one study found that having moderate to severe S.A. increased the risk for stroke by four times, independent of other risk factors like obesity or blood pressure. The risk of stroke also seems to be connected to the severity of S.A. For instance, in one study men with moderate to severe S.A. were three times more likely to experience a stroke compared to those with mild S.A. or didn’t have the sleep disorder. 

    In addition, those with sleep apnea may have a higher risk of recurrent strokes. Recurrent strokes are associated with worse outcomes and functional status, so this is another important risk to understand. 

    Also, S.A. may put you at a higher risk for having a stroke while you sleep. Most strokes happen while the person is awake, but they can happen while you’re asleep. The problem with this is that you can have a stroke while you sleep and not realize, delaying when you get emergency medical services. This can increase the risk for death or brain damage from the stroke, as the longer your brain goes without blood and oxygen, the more cells die. 

    S.A. Can Cause Heart Problems that Increase the Risk for Stroke

    One reason sleep apnea may increase your risk for stroke is because it can put unnecessary stress on your cardiovascular system. For instance, S.A. can increase your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, AFib, and other conditions. These conditions can also increase your risk for stroke. 

    What happens is that when you stop breathing at night, your heart and cardiovascular system may work harder to help you wake up to breathe. For instance, the lack of oxygen from apnea events can make your body increase blood pressure to help wake you up. Over time, these blood pressure changes and heart beat fluctuations can become more permanent, leading to high blood pressure and even irregular heartbeat (AFib). It may also lead to high cholesterol and atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Each of these heart problems can also increase your risk for stroke.

    S.A. May Reduce Your Brain’s Ability to Regulate Blood Flow

    Another possible explanation of the link between S.A. and stroke is that sleep apnea may damage your brain’s ability to control blood flow to itself. Normally, your brain is able to regulate blood flow to help meet its own needs, in spite of other factors like high blood pressure. This is known as cerebral autoregulation. However, S.A. can reduce blood flow to the brain and increase brain blood pressure, which over time may damage the cerebral autoregulation process. Essentially, your brain may not be able to prevent damage to itself after years of untreated S.A. This may also increase your risk for stroke. 

    Does Sleep Apnea Treatment Help Reduce Risk of Stroke?

    So, is there anything you can do to help reduce your risk of stroke if you have S.A.? Some studies suggest that sleep apnea treatment may help. Untreated S.A. is associated with worse outcomes after a stroke, so researchers have started to look at the effects of CPAP therapy on stroke outcomes and risk. Research is still ongoing, but several studies have found some positive effects. 

    CPAP therapy is the gold standard of treatment for S.A. Research has found that CPAP can help reduce symptoms and complications of S.A., including many of those cardiovascular issues that could increase the risk for a stroke, like high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and AFib. Some researchers believe that CPAP may help normalize cerebral autoregulation processes for those with S.A.

    After a stroke, beginning CPAP also had some benefits. For instance, one study found better neurological improvements for stroke patients who started CPAP therapy after their stroke. Also, another study found that those who started CPAP within two months of their stroke had lower five-year mortality rates and seven-year stroke recurrence rates. So, evidence suggests that stroke patients with S.A. may benefit in several ways from sleep apnea treatment. 

    Signs of a Stroke to Watch For

    It’s important to know the signs of stroke whether you have S.A. or not, as it’s a common but potentially life-threatening issue. If you believe you or someone else is currently experiencing a stroke, you should call 911 for emergency medical attention. Getting quick medical care is important to help reduce the risk of complications and death. 

    For stroke, remember the acronym BE FAST.

    • Balance – problems with balance and coordination
    • Eyes – issues with vision in one or both eyes
    • Face – is droopy, uneven, or numb
    • Arms – numbness, weakness, or unable to move arms
    • Speech – slurred speech, unable to speak, or difficult to understand
    • Time to call 911 – call 911 if there are any of these symptoms, even if they go away or get better

    Men’s Health Management for Sleep, Hormone Deficiencies, and More

    Taking the first step toward better health is simple with our team at Low T Center. We’re here to help you with total men’s health management solutions. Whether you’re dealing with sleep issues, hormone deficiencies, or other conditions, our team offers convenient, affordable care. We can help identify and treat underlying causes of your symptoms and offer ongoing health and treatment monitoring to help you prioritize your health. Book an appointment today for a comprehensive health assessment to talk to one of our health care providers.

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    Disclaimer: This article is made available for general, entertainment and educational purposes only. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of Low T Center. You should always seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional.