We've known for years that having obstructive sleep apnea significantly increases your risk for stroke. It's thought that only severe sleep apnea is associated with higher levels of stroke. However, a new study showed, surprisingly, that mild levels of obstructive sleep apnea significantly increases your chances of stroke, even in middle aged men. In the mild to moderate range, one unit increase in the apnea hypopnea index increased the stroke risk by 6%! In women, the risk for stroke was not significant until severe levels of sleep apnea are reached.
This is why anytime I have a patient that has a parent that snored heavily and died of a heart attack or stroke in their 30s to 50s, I make sure the patient understands the implications.
Another issue that this study raises is that if you're at risk for a major stroke, you're also at risk for multiple minor strokes. Recent studies have revealed that untreated sleep apnea patients have multiple areas of microscopic strokes, spread throughout the brain. These areas are found in numerous areas with significantly lowered nerve density and functioning in critical areas of the brain, including parts that control breathing, energy metabolism, motor movements, memory and executive function. Sleep apnea patients are also in general more susceptible to clotting due to thickened blood and hypoperfusion leading to brain ischemia.
Something to think about. If you have sleep apnea, you may not be able to think about it.