FIRST PERSON | Texas researchers have made a discovery bound to shock many patients suffering from a common but potentially fatal sleep disorder. The Baylor College of Medicine team found that after experiencing the disorder for just 30 days, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) patients could suffer a stroke. They've linked their results to changes in cerebral vessel function in middle-age or older men with OSA, according to ScienceDaily.
I learned about the evils of obstructive sleep apnea seven years ago, after a sleep study revealed I had a grade two OSA. Around 20 percent of U.S. adults have the disorder. Up to 85 percent remain undiagnosed, however.
OSA occurs when the flow of air either actually pauses or decreases during breathing while asleep. The disruption in air flow happens when your airway becomes narrowed, blocked, or floppy, PubMed Health explains.
The Baylor researchers created a new model with a more accurate mimicking of the sleep apnea process in animals. They caused 30 airway closures, each 10 seconds long, for eight hours. Results suggested that damage to the vascular wall in brain arteries might predispose an OSA patient to a stroke after only a month.
For moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea, two types of therapy are available, according to the Mayo Clinic. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), in which a machine pushes air through a mask to keep upper airway passages open, is the more frequently used type.
Some patients sleep with a mouthpiece that helps to keep the throat open, bring the jaw forward, or hold the tongue in a different position to relieve snoring and OSA. A number of surgical options also exist.
A typical OSA patient is male and at least middle-age. Though female, I had classic symptoms. I snored a lot, awoke a lot, carried an extra 20 pounds, had high blood pressure, and had a short neck. I often wondered if the only thing that would open my sinuses was drain cleaner.
My doctor agreed that I could try less-aggressive methods like sleeping on my side, losing weight, and clearing my stuffy sinuses each night. These were ideal in a home filled with rescued cats who loved to crawl over humans and disrupt sleep. Also on my list were regular exams to check for long-term complications like abnormal heart rhythm, worsening sleep deprivation, and stroke.
After reading about the results of the Baylor study on obstructive sleep apnea, I'm more inclined to pick up the phone and make an appointment to look into a CPAP machine. Though I'm not a middle-age male, the complications of the OSA might be nearer than I imagined.
Vonda J. Sines specialized in medical writing and reporting as an undergraduate and refined her skills while earning a master's degree in writing. A founding member of a non-profit health organization and a patient advocate her entire adult life, she is the author of thousands of print and online health and medical articles.