While heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, stroke isn’t far behind at No. 5. According to the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, patients with stroke have an increased incidence of sleep apnea.

The Center for Sleep Medicine confirms that moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea increases the risk of ischemic stroke by as much as three times in men. The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine reports that Obstructive Sleep Apnea more than doubles the risk of stroke in men, even in men with mild sleep apnea, and the risk increases with severity of OSA. Increased risk of stroke in women has been found with severe sleep apnea.

Sleep apneas connection to stroke

More than 15 million strokes occur worldwide every year, and about a third of those are fatal. Increased risk of stroke in people with sleep apnea exists even without other risk factors like obesity, diabetes and smoking.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted, depriving the brain of oxygen. A stroke may be caused by a narrowed or blocked artery supplying blood to the brain or by a burst blood vessel in the brain.

The interruptions in breathing that come with sleep apnea lead to low oxygen levels in the blood and brain. Like with sleep apnea’s connection to heart disease, patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea don’t experience a drop in blood pressure and heart rate during the night. As oxygen levels decrease during pauses in breathing, blood pressure and heart rate fluctuate throughout the night, leading to high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation, prime risk factors for stroke.

As high blood pressure is an independent risk for stroke, sleep apnea becomes an indirect cause of stroke. Sleep apnea is most likely to lead to ischemic strokes, those caused by an interruption of blood supply to the brain, but it is also likely to lead to cardioembolic stroke.

Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea before or after stroke

According to the Center for Sleep Medicine, whether or not sleep apnea was present before stroke, most patients experience Obstructive Sleep Apnea after a stroke. CPAP can be challenging as a treatment for OSA in patients post-stroke because of the patient’s potential facial weakness or inability to put on and take off the mask. For these patients especially, oral appliance therapy can be a viable alternative.

Both prior to and after a stroke, a reduction in Obstructive Sleep Apnea is critical. Our trained sleep disorders dentists at Innovative Dental Sleep begin the journey to treatment by evaluating a traditional sleep study, or providing you with our take-home sleep test, giving us a thorough understanding of your sleep health and allowing us to determine the most appropriate treatment method for your sleep disorders.

For our patients who are candidates for oral appliance therapy, we treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea by remodeling the upper airway and permanently moving the jaw forward, all without surgery or a cumbersome CPAP machine. We will work with you and your general physician to determine if oral appliance therapy can improve your sleep health and reduce your risk for stroke.

Start your journey to better sleep by taking this short quiz to see if you may be suffering from OSA. Then, schedule your FREE consultation with our team by calling (775) 477-5337.