Stroke and Sleep Apnea...Know the Risk

Stroke is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain. It is the number 5 cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States.  

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts (ruptures). When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs, so it and brain cells die.

The purpose of this blog is to explain to you how Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a condition that causes periodic disruption in breathing while sleeping, is directly linked to the risk of having a stroke.  If you have sleep apnea, you will want to continue reading this article that was published by Dr. Michael F. Hnat, DMD, DABDSM, a sleep dentist provider, and TMD specialist with Pittsburgh Dental Sleep Medicine.

With OSA, the cumulative lack of adequate oxygen over time causes blood vessels to narrow. Eventually, narrowed blood vessels in the brain can obstruct blood flow resulting in a stroke. It is estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, with 80 percent of the cases of moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea undiagnosed.

A National Institute of Health study in April 2010 concluded that OSA increases the risk of stroke in middle-aged and older men and women. The study found that the increased risk of stroke in men appears even in mild sleep apnea and rises significantly with the severity of the disease.  Notable in this report was that the increased risk was "independent" of other stroke risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, race, smoking, and Type 2 Diabetes. Recent research links OSA to silent or mini-strokes in which there is brain tissue death without apparent symptoms.

Even people with very mild sleep apnea were linked to having silent strokes. The National Stroke Association reports that nearly two of every three stroke survivors have sleep-disordered breathing, particularly OSA.

While all of the above research supports the debilitating nature of sleep apnea on brain health, the key point is the pressing need for qualified medical and dental professionals to increase their efforts to screen and refer suspicious individuals to sleep labs for testing. It is estimated that only 10% of individuals with OSA have actually been diagnosed, and it is a fact that only one of every four of those is being successfully treated.  

Sleep professionals must collaborate and be certain that diagnosed OSA individuals know their treatment options and follow through with the option that they can adhere to in order to manage their disease.  

Current treatment options are CPAP (air pressure face mask while sleeping), oral sleep appliances (mouthpiece worn over the teeth while sleeping that repositions the jaw), or airway surgeries.  

Sleep apnea is a serious, growing epidemic in our country. It is public awareness that is our greatest defense. 

If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea or have chronic snoring, talk with your doctor about your health consequences and contact Pittsburgh Dental Sleep Medicine to speak with a specialist in oral appliance therapy for the treatment of OSA. 

Oral appliance therapy is covered by most major medical insurance. 

Author
Michael F. Hnat, DMD, DABDSM Headshot Michael F. Hnat, DMD, DABDSM, DABCDSM Dr. Michael Hnat brings exemplary knowledge and experience in both dental sleep medicine and TMJ-related issues. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine and the prestigious mini-residency in Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders from Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. He is Clinical Assistant Professor in dental sleep medicine at the West Virginia University School of Dentistry. The focus of his clinical practice is oral appliance therapy for the treatment of sleep-related breathing problems, TMJ disorders, and head and neck muscle pain. Dr. Hnat is credentialed thru the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine and the American Board of Craniofacial Dental Sleep Medicine.

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