February 3, 2012

Sleep Apnea Ups Risk of Silent Strokes and Brain Lesions

(Ivanhoe Newswire) — Here´s an eye-opener for those suffering from severe sleep apnea. It may  increase your risk of silent strokes and lesions in the brain.

People with sleep apnea often experience a lack of oxygen reaching the brain, as well as, other parts of the body. Stokes occurs when blood–supplied by oxygen–doesn´t flow properly to the brain. “We found a surprisingly high frequency of sleep apnea in patients with stroke that underlines its clinical relevance as a stroke risk factor," said Jessica Kepplinger, M.D., the study's lead researcher and stroke fellow in the Dresden University Stroke Center's Department of Neurology at the University of Technology in Dresden, Germany.

Patients for this study underwent overnight in-hospital testing for sleep apnea. The participants were white with an average age of 67 and 54 percent of them were women. Magnetic resonance imaging and computerized tomography was used to determine silent strokes and white matter lesions within the volunteers. Kepplinger and her colleagues found that ninety-one percent (51 of 56)  of the patients who had a stroke had sleep apnea and were more likely to have silent strokes and white matter lesions that increased their risk of disability at hospital discharge. They also discovered more than one-third of the patients with white matter lesions had severe sleep apnea and more than 50 percent of the silent stroke patients had sleep apnea. Even though men were more likely to have silent infarctions, correlations between sleep apnea and silent infarcts remained the same after adjustment for such gender differences.

Researchers suggested that sleep apnea should be treated the same as other vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure. Kepplinger and her team plan to do more studies on sleep apnea, particularly in high-risk patients with silent strokes and white matter lesions, to determine the impact of non-invasive ventilation and on short-term clinical outcome.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, February, 2012