Sleep apnea may also cause strokes, find new studies

As if struggling to sleep is not enough, new studies find the condition may have more nefarious consequences.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Representational image of an individual suffering from sleep apnea.jpg
Representational image of an individual suffering from sleep apnea.


As if struggling to sleep is not tough enough, now there is more bad news on the horizon.

Sleep apnea has already been found to increase the risks of cancer and now two new studies are indicating it may be connected to increased chances of strokes.

This is according to a report by The Guardian published on Friday.

The article highlights new findings being presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology.

Atrial fibrillations and strokes

In the new research, Stanford University researchers examined approximately 1.7 million people aged 20 to 50 over a period of 10 years and reported that those already suffering from sleep apnea were five times more prone to developing atrial fibrillation, caused by extremely fast and irregular beats from the upper chambers of the heart, and 60 percent more prone to having a stroke, a condition that occurs when there's a change in how blood flows through the brain.

“We found a 60 percent increased risk of having a stroke if you have sleep apnea,” told The Guardian Sanjiv Narayan, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford and one of the study’s authors.

“Sleep apnea is really common but we sort of ignore it because we think it’s trivial or just a little bit of a nuisance. Until now no one’s really shown the magnitude of the size of the risk.

“That’s what really surprised us. And also this is in the relatively young. People that if they had a stroke it would devastate young families. It could take them away from the workplace. It would destroy their lives for the next 40 years.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, sleep apnea is considered a serious disorder that happens when you cannot breathe properly while asleep. Some indications that you may have the condition include snoring loudly and feeling tired despite getting enough sleep.

How does that relate to strokes?

Pressure in the lungs

“When you are unable to breathe it raises the pressure in the lungs until you ultimately wake up gasping for breath,” Narayan told The Guardian.

“That puts a pressure load on the heart, which causes stretch in the heart chambers, and that could cause the atrial fibrillation. Another theory could be that the oxygen levels in the blood fall for tens of seconds and that could put stress on the heart.”

Sleep apnea can be diagnosed through nocturnal polysomnography (a test where the patient is hooked up to equipment that monitors his/her heart, lung and brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements, and blood oxygen levels) or simple home sleep tests.

Changing diet, avoiding alcohol and cigarettes and increasing exercise can all help with sleep apnea however if these options do not work a patient may be referred to a sleep disorder center where he or she can get help from a sleep specialist.

Past studies have identified a nasal spray that helped regulate the disorder and an antidepressant that also worked to reduce the condition’s nefarious effects. However, up to now, there is still no known conclusive cure for sleep apnea and many have to rely on machines to help them get through the night.