According to research presented at the School of Medicine and the University of Navarra Hospital by Dr. Roberto Muñoz, a physician of the Neurology Service of the Hospital Complex of Navarra, those persons with serious cases of sleep apnea have more than twice the possibility of suffering an ischemic stroke. Specifically, 2.5 times more likely.
This was confirmed in an study undertaken for his doctoral dissertation among 394 subjects aged 70 or more. “After studying the quality of their sleep, we tracked the volunteers over the course of six years. After which, 20 of the study subjects had suffered a stroke,” explained this native Pamplonan. Furthermore, he confirmed that in addition to the fact that sleep apnea affects above all persons of middle and advanced age — it is estimated that 5% of all adults suffer from it — this prevalence may significantly increase with age.
In addition, the new Ph.D. in Medicine noted that apnea “can appear in childhood, although with different causes and characteristics”. Among the predisposing factors for suffering this disorder, the expert emphasized obesity: “Therefore, one of the measures for avoiding the problem is losing weight. In fact, there are patients who have been able to make their sleep apnea disappear simply by reducing their weight.”
“It is also a good idea to avoid sleeping face-upwards — since this position aids in the appearance of snoring — as well as quitting tobacco use and the excessive consumption of alcohol,” adds Muñoz. In the most serious cases, the treatment includes the nightly use of a pressurized air mask, although he emphasized that each patient should receive the treatment most appropriate for his or her case.
Sequelae and disability
In the opinion of Roberto Muñoz, even though the incidence of death by stroke is important, “in recent years it has gone down significantly, both in Spain as well as in Navarra, thanks, above all, to the stroke units of hospitals and programs for immediate attention”.
Nonetheless, an elevated percentage of those affected presented sequelae, and in addition, some disability: “We are, therefore, faced with a serious problem of public health, not only due to the deaths that it causes, but because it is one of the principal causes of disability in our society”.
With regards to the problems associated with sleep apnea, Roberto Muñoz indicated that the problem — which is basically characterized by intense snoring accompanied by prolonged pauses in breathing (more than ten seconds) also provokes tiredness and poorer intellectual performance since sleep is of lower quality.
“Over the long term, in addition, the alterations in respiration can result in hypertension, cardiovascular problems, and finally in stroke; hence the importance of preventing it and treating it from its outset”, concluded the expert.
Material adapted from Elhuyar Fundazioa.