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May Is Stroke Awareness Month

August 27, 2021

Forty seconds. That’s how long it takes to add a new song to your Spotify playlist, order a meal in the drive-thru, or send a text message to a friend. But did you also know that every 40 seconds, someone in the US has a stroke? And every four minutes, it’s fatal.

Stroke is the second-leading cause of death globally, and the CDC says it’s the leading cause of long-term disability. Much like its predecessor, heart disease (the leading cause of death among Americans), experts say up to 80 percent of strokes could be prevented through lifestyle changes that improve cardiovascular health.

The more you know about stroke risks, the more likely you are to make healthier lifestyle choices. For instance, medical experts attribute a greater risk of stroke to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking, and untreated diabetes. The CDC estimates that one in three individuals has at least one of these conditions or habits.

You may not know that sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), also increase the risk of stroke. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that “obstructive sleep apnea syndrome significantly increases the risk of stroke or death from any cause, and the increase is independent of other risk factors, including hypertension.” 

What’s the connection between chronic interrupted sleep and stroke? Let’s discuss what happens during mild to moderate sleep apnea and how it impacts healthy blood flow. 

What is OSA?

When the muscles that support the soft tissues in your throat—such as your tongue and soft palate—temporarily relax, that’s known as obstructive sleep apnea. When these muscles relax, your airway is narrowed or closed, and breathing is momentarily cut off.

OSA is more common than you may think. Studies show about 22 million individuals in the US suffer from OSA, and researchers believe that as many as eight out of 10 people aren’t even aware that they suffer from any form of sleep apnea. In many cases, what you may dismiss as loud snoring could be a much more severe problem.

Is snoring that big of a problem?

“Snoring occurs when air being inhaled and exhaled through a crowded airway creates noise as a result of friction,” explain researchers with the American Sleep Apnea Association. “For some people, snoring is soft and infrequent, but for many, it’s very loud and constant.”

According to ASAA experts, three problems arise around chronic loud and constant snoring:

  • The snorer, deprived of adequate oxygen to the brain, experiences stubborn, hard-to-control increases in blood pressure.
  • Additionally, anyone who sleeps next to or near the snorer can suffer from sleep deprivation, too.
  • Most people who snore loudly all night long are probably also experiencing obstructive sleep apnea. In fact, The Journal of the American Heart Association estimates obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is present in 60 to 70 percent of stroke patients.

How does OSA increase the risk of stroke?

New research shows the relationship between quality sleep and maintaining overall health is closely related. “It’s important to note that sleep is a fundamental part of our biology, as is breathing and eating. It’s not optional,” says Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona. “It’s something that our body needs to function and that’s why it implicates so many different systems. It is critically important for both heart and brain health.” 

Grandner adds that while sleep issues are not well-addressed in cardiovascular care, there is growing recognition of the role sleep apnea has on heart and brain health. 

The connection isn’t surprising when you consider the impact sleep apnea has on oxygen levels and blood pressure.

“During an apneic episode, the body asserts an amazing amount of effort to try to open the airway and get a breath in,” explains Dr. Melissa Lipford, a neurologist at the Center for Sleep Medicine at Mayo Clinic. However, the body frequently fails to give the brain the amount of oxygen necessary to keep all of your bodily systems functioning properly during sleep.

When low blood oxygen persists, the sympathetic nervous system releases surges of stress hormones, elevating blood pressure levels and leading to fluctuations in heart rate.

“Over time, these ongoing and untreated conditions during sleep will lead to systemic problems with uncontrolled high blood pressure (hypertension) and a heart arrhythmia condition known as atrial fibrillation (AFib),” says sleepapnea.org. “Hypertension and AFib are two well-known risk factors for stroke.” 

Are there ways to breathe easy again?

Fortunately, OSA sufferers aren’t relegated to a life of interrupted sleep—on the condition they seek treatment. “For the most part, sleep apnea is a chronic condition that does not go away,” warns Brandon Peters, MD. “Anatomy tends to remain fixed, especially after adolescence has ended.”

Your dentist is an excellent resource for sleep apnea treatment options, including The Vivos System, which is indicated for use to treat mild-to-moderate obstructive sleep apnea, snoring, and sleep-disordered breathing in adults. The Vivos System offers an all-natural, nonsurgical, nonpharmaceutical, and pain-free approach. Click here to see if you are an ideal candidate. It may take only 40 seconds to start on a healthier, life-saving path to sleep apnea recovery and stroke prevention. And that’s time well-spent.