Sleep Apnea - A Risk for Stroke

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April 13, 2010

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The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine is reporting that sleep apnea poses an increased risk for stroke in middle-aged and older Americans. Researchers looked at stroke risk in over five thousand participants without a history of stroke in the Sleep Heart Health Study. Their findings suggest that participants aged 40 years and older are at a greater risk of having a stroke. The probability was even greater for men with mild sleep apnea whose risk of stroke rose if the apnea was more severe. Men with moderate to severe sleep apnea were almost three times more likely to have a stroke than men without sleep apnea or even mild sleep apnea. For women, the increased risk of stroke was significant only with severe levels of sleep apnea. Risk factors such as obesity, smoking, race, diabetes and high blood pressure factored heavily into the risk levels for women. At the beginning of the study , all participants performed a standard at-home sleep test to determine whether they had sleep apnea or not, and if so, the severity of the sleep apnea. The participants were then tracked for an average of nine years. During that period, a total of 193 participants reportedly had a stroke – 85 men (of 2,462 men enrolled) and 108 women (out of 2,960 enrolled). Michael J. Twery, Ph.D., director of the NIH National Center on Sleep Disorders Research noted "...what's even more alarming, is that the body becomes used to these erratic patterns, even if we are not sleeping... when that happens you have stress on the heart all the time."