Your Snoring Problem Could Signal a Stroke Risk

If you have a snoring problem, you could be at a high risk of stroke. Snoring is one of the most unexpected warnings of stroke risk. A number of research studies have determined that a condition called obstructive sleep apnea, which is characterized by snoring, is a stroke risk factor, and, even more surprisingly, a cause of stroke. One of the recent scientific analyses calculated stroke rates and reported a fourfold increase in stroke among individuals who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.


What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder associated with partial obstruction of air as it travels through the airway during sleep. This produces snoring and results in pauses in breathing during sleep. Most of the time, people who have obstructive sleep apnea do not notice when they snore or stop breathing.

If you have obstructive sleep apnea, you are likely to wake up feeling exhausted and unrested, but you might not know why. If you share a bed or a bedroom with someone who has obstructive sleep apnea, you probably notice that he or she snores at night and you might even notice that he or she stops breathing during sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea also causes episodes of interrupted breathing. The problem with interrupted breathing is that it prevents your body from getting enough oxygen for seconds or even minutes at a time. Imagine holding your breath.

You can only do it for a few seconds. But when someone with obstructive sleep apnea goes to sleep, her body doesn't get enough oxygen every time she stops breathing.


Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The snoring that is characteristic of obstructive sleep apnea is a sign of weakness of the muscles that control breathing.

This muscle weakness prevents proper breathing because the air has to travel through a narrow passageway, creating the snoring noise.  Because the airway is so narrow, less oxygen is allowed to enter the airway to get through to the lungs.

When your breathing is interrupted during sleep, you wake up so your breathing can resume. When your sleep is repeatedly interrupted, you end up feeling tired due to the chronic lack of restorative sleep.


Why Does Obstructive Sleep Apnea Cause Stroke?

Several theories have been proposed to explain why obstructive sleep apnea causes such a high rate of stroke. The disturbed breathing, and the irregularity of oxygen entering the body cause alterations in blood vessels and heart function as the body attempts to 'survive' in the setting of low oxygen. These chronic fluctuations can lead to heart disease, hypertension, vascular disease and cerebrovascular disease- all of which cause stroke. People with sleep apnea have a high incidence of atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm which often leads to embolic stroke

Another explanation of how obstructive sleep apnea causes stroke is that the prolonged lack of oxygen in the body may generate a buildup of toxins that damage the inner lining of the blood vessels and increase the formation of blood clots, leading to blocked blood vessels and stroke.

Currently, the actual mechanism by which obstructive sleep apnea causes stroke is not well understood. However, the fact that obstructive sleep apnea is a predictor and a cause of stroke is a strong reason to get a medical evaluation if you are waking up feeling tired in the morning or if someone has told you that you snore or that you stop breathing during your sleep.


What Can You do About it?

Fortunately, obstructive sleep apnea is treatable. There are sleep studies you might need to take to confirm the diagnosis and there are several effective treatment options to help you sleep better and breathe regularly during your sleep.

If you obtain the medical attention needed to gain control of your obstructive sleep apnea, you will wake up feeling more rested. And, if you get your obstructive sleep apnea taken care of, you will decrease your risk of stroke, which is expected to increase your lifespan by 12 1/2 years.



Sleep disorders may double the risk of heart attacks and quadruple the risk of stroke, Nursing Standard, July 2015

Sleep Apnea and Stroke, Lyons OD, Ryan CM, Canadian Journal of Cardiology, July 2015 

Obstructive sleep apnea and stroke, Das AM, Khan M, Expert Review of Cardiovascular Therapy, April 2012

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