Sleep apnea linked to increased risk of stroke

Findings of a study to be published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine will show that there is an increased risk of stroke in middle aged and older men with mild sleep apnea. In men with moderate or severe sleep apnea there was a nearly three times more likely occurrence of stroke than men without sleep apnea or mild sleep apnea. Also included in the report was a link between sleep apnea and an increased risk of stroke in women.

The study had the support of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health. Researchers from the Sleep Heart Health Study conducted the risk stroke study in nine medical centers across the country on over 5400 participants with sleep apnea aged 40 years and older with no history of stroke. The participants were followed for nine years. During the study, 193 participants suffered a stroke. The researchers found that the effects of sleep apnea on stroke risk was stronger in men than in women. In men, there was an increase in stroke risk as it progressed from mild to moderate to severe. In women, the increased risk of stroke showed in severe levels of sleep apnea.

Our findings provide compelling evidence that obstructive sleep apnea is a risk factor for stroke, especially in men. Overall, the increased risk of stroke in men with sleep apnea is comparable to adding ten years to a man's age, said Susan Redline, M.D., MPH, professor of medicine, pediatrics, and epidemiology and biostatistics, at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and lead author of the paper.

More than 12 million American adults are believed to have sleep apnea, and most are undiagnosed or treated. The researchers found that untreated sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, irregular heart beats, heart failure and death from any cause.

Various treatments can be used to restore regular breathing during sleep including mouthpieces, surgery, and breathing devices, such as a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine.