Snoring is so common these days that no one takes it seriously anymore. One patient commented that even her dog snores! Yesterday, I saw a man who uses earplugs to cover up his wife’s intense snoring. When someone is caught snoring, giggles and smiles are more common than genuine concern about the snorer’s health.
Not all snoring is dangerous, but a significant number of snorers will have undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea. Recent studies highlight the seriousness untreated sleep apnea. One study showed that untreated apnea patients experience similar changes in brain biochemistry as people who are having a stroke or are dying. Even moderate degrees of oxygen deprivation was found to have profound effects. The abstract can be found here.
Another study showed that untreated sleep apnea patients have higher blood viscosity, meaning that their blood is literally thicker than normal. This, coupled with increased inflammation that’s seen in sleep apnea, makes small vessels in the brain more likely to clot.
Numerous other imaging studies report finding multiple small areas of damage in different areas of the brain in people with untreated obstructive sleep apnea.
Studies in young children found that even very mild degrees of obstructive sleep apnea can lead to cognitive changes and maybe even permanent neurologic injury.
These type of studies go on and on. While we can’t screen everyone who snores for obstructive sleep apnea, if you have any of the potential complications of sleep apnea (such as depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, or heart disease) or if there’s a strong family history of snoring with cardiovascular diseases, there’s good reason to get checked for sleep apnea.
The reason I bring up this issue at all is that once in a while, I’ll see a relatively young patient (in his or her 30s or 40s) who had a stroke. Not too surprisingly, they all snore heavily. If you know anyone that had a stroke at a relatively young age, at least consider the possibility.