Evidence of Snoring-Stroke Link

It’s the music of the night in many households.

But severe snoring may be more than a nuisance.

It may be a risk factor for stroke, because snoring can reduce the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain.

A new study presented at the International Stroke Conference last month found that poor sleep might increase your chances of having a stroke.

The study found that people who slept more than eight hours a night, those who were drowsy during the day and those who snored had a much higher chance of having a stroke.

All these are possible signs of sleep apnea, a condition in which people actually stop breathing and wake up gasping for breath.

“It’s a startle mechanism,” explains Dr. Douglas Bradley, a spokesman for the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation, Toronto. “And if they do it 200 to 400 times a night, [their] blood pressure is going to be markedly elevated.”

High blood pressure is a known risk factor for stroke. Between that and the fact that nearly 40 percent of strokes happen while patients are sleeping or within an hour of their waking, doctors are beginning to suspect a very strong link between severe snoring and stroke.

Treatment Is Available

“Probably, sleep apnea is present in many patients long before a stroke, and they are not aware it’s something unusual,” explains Dr. Vlasta Hajek, a rehabilitation specialist at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, which has many stroke patients.

About 10 percent of adults suffer from sleep apnea, but only a small percentage ever get it treated, with either surgery or breathing devices.

The most common method of treatment is a positive airway pressure system, which is essentially an air pump with a mask that a sufferer wears while sleeping.

Doctors expect that people will seek out treatment for sleep apnea, now that there’s more evidence that a key way to prevent strokes might be a good night’s sleep.

Avis Favaro for ABCNEWS in Toronto and ABCNEWS.com’s Robin Eisner contributed to this report.

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