Severe obstructive sleep apnea has been found to be a possible risk factor for stroke in the elderly, according to a new study out of Spain.
There are three types of this sleep disorder — central, mixed, and obstructive — but obstructive is the most common one. Basically, what occurs in the latter is that, during sleep, a person’s airway is blocked when part of the throat opens and closes. This causes the affected person to stop breathing at various points while they are sleeping.
If you have this disorder, you are very likely to snore loudly and feel tired and groggy throughout the day. Moreover, obstructive sleep apnea could cause a slew of health problems, including headaches, impotency, and hypertension.
Now, thanks to this latest study, the sleep disorder has been found to have a link to increased incidences of “ischemic stroke” in people over the age of 70. Ischemic strokes are those that are caused by an inadequate supply of oxygen and blood to the brain, leading to brain cell death.
The six-year-long study looked at 394 Spanish men and women, between 70 and 100 years old, who were living at home. At the outset, none of the study participants had experienced a stroke. The subjects were interviewed and their vital medical information was taken, including breathing patterns. They were then monitored while they slept at night to see if they exhibited symptoms of mild, moderate, or severe obstructive sleep apnea — or if they had no signs of the sleep disorder at all.
During the course of the study, 20 participants suffered ischemic strokes. At the end, the researchers concluded that those with the severe form of obstructive sleep apnea were 2.5 times more likely to have a stroke than those with mild or moderate forms of the condition, or those who had no apnea problems. That’s more than double the risk!
As you probably know, the more you age, the greater the chance is that you could experience a stroke. According to the Spanish researchers, the elderly suffer 75% of all reported strokes. Now that people are living longer, fuller lives, it’s possible that these numbers will rise. Prior to this study, sleep apnea was not considered as having a connection to stroke in those over 70 years old.
Now, we know how important it is to bring up any sleep problems you might be experiencing to your doctor. If you have any symptoms that have been mentioned to be in association with apnea, make an appointment with your physician as soon as possible. The next step in the apnea/stroke research should be a study that looks at whether or not treating obstructive sleep apnea could reduce the incidence of stroke. We’ll keep you updated!