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Sleep Apnea Doubles Stroke Risk - CPAP Treatment Data Inconclusive

November 9th 2005

Sleep Apnea Doubles Stroke Risk - CPAP Treatment Data Inconclusive

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The November 10th Issue of the New England Journal of Medicine includes two articles concerning sleep apnea.  One article investigated the rate of stroke with those with obstructive sleep apnea while the other concerned central sleep apnea. 

The first study was conducted by Yale University School of Medicine found “a new risk factor for the development of stroke”.  They found that patients with obstructive sleep apnea had double the risk for stroke.

People with obstructive sleep apnea rarely realize they have it. OSA is a condition where the sleeper’s upper airway relaxes and closes many times an hour.  It is commonly associated with people that snore.

The worse the condition the more likely a stroke will occur.  This is the case even after all other risk factors have been considered including  age, sex, race, smoking status, alcohol-consumption status, body-mass index, and the presence or absence of diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia, atrial fibrillation, and hypertension.  

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A common treatment for sleep apnea is the Constant Positive Air Pressure Machine (CPAP).  This applies a constant pressure on the airway keeping it open. WebMD states that as many as one in four men and one in 10 women have obstructive sleep apnea  

There will likely be further studies to determine if this treatment helps prevent stroke.  Earlier studies have indicated CPAP use has reduced the incidence of heart failure. 

The other study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the CPAP did not help people with central sleep apnea with regards to stroke prevention. 

Central sleep apnea is much less common and occurs when the brain simply forgets to breath.  Other studies have found that central sleep apnea is caused by loss of brain stem cells.  This occurs naturally as we age.

This study was less conclusive because during the study there were major advances in the treatment of heart failure.  There are patients with central apnea that would benefit from the CPAP, but the survival rate is unidentified.     

Their data do not support the use of CPAP to extend life in patients who have central sleep apnea and heart failure.  CPAP does increase exercise capacity which is important for heart patients. 

There are also questions concerning the use of the CPAP in the studies.  Some patients may not have used the treatment for all sleeping hours.  It is important to use the CPAP for all sleeping hours to be the most effective, even when taking a short nap. 


By Dan Wilson
Best Syndication Staff Writer

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Copyright 2005 Best Syndication                                            Last Updated Saturday, July 10, 2010 09:40 PM