Sleep apnea (SA) has been identified as a risk factor or an outcome for cardiovascular disease and related events—heart attack and stroke.
A stroke is caused by the lack of blood flow to a part of the brain. Because sleep apnea does not affect blood flow, it seems these two conditions should be unrelated. Yet research shows that people with diagnosed sleep apnea are more likely to suffer a stroke. The connection may be blood pressure.
Sleep apnea has been linked to increased blood pressure, or hypertension, especially at night. High blood pressure, in turn, is a risk factor for both heart attack and stroke. Elevated blood pressure can put too much strain on the vessels in the brain, causing a rupture, thereby disrupting blood flow to the brain.
In addition, a stroke affecting the brain stem or a heart attack leading to congestive heart failure can cause central sleep apnea.
Treatment for obstructive sleep apnea improves the quality of your sleep and has been proven to help normalize blood pressure, thereby reducing your risk of stroke. In fact, regular use of CPAP, the gold standard treatment for sleep apnea, allows many people to decrease medications for hypertension.
To get treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, you need to get a diagnostic sleep study done (to confirm OSA or point you to further testing) and a treatment sleep study during which your CPAP is titrated for your needs.
Dr. Senthil Ramasamy, board-certified sleep specialist at Neurology & Sleep Medicine, can be part of the treatment team that helps you lower your risk for heart attack and stroke. Contact us to schedule an initial consultation.