Study Finds that Sleep Apnea Is Linked to Brain Damage

Study Finds that Sleep Apnea Is Linked to Brain Damage
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Researchers at the Mayo Clinic discovered a link between serious sleep apnea and brain lesions that may increase the risk of dementia and even stroke.

According to the study published this week, loud snoring might be an early sign of much more serious issues.

The study discovered a connection between larger levels of a particular biomarker in the brain in older individuals with severe sleep apnea—one that may raise people’s risk of dementia or stroke.

However, more study will be required to fully comprehend this link.

Breathing pauses happen throughout sleep for those who have sleep apnea. The brain quickly awakens them so that breathing may start, but as soon as they fall asleep again, the cycle resumes.

Obstructive as well as central sleep apnea are the two primary types. In contrast to central apnea, which occurs when the brain forgets to tell the body to breathe, obstructive apnea occurs when airway muscles physically restrict someone from breathing.

A third type combines both of these conditions.

Even while not all snoring is related to obstructive sleep apnea, it is frequently a symptom of the illness.

People who have apnea find it challenging to obtain a good night’s sleep, which can have a variety of negative effects on their physical and mental health.

Sleep apnea has been linked to a higher risk of several other health issues, including cardiovascular disease, particularly when it is severe.

The goal of this new study, which was published in the journal Neurology, was to learn more about how the illness can potentially impact the brain.

They examined information gathered from 140 older people who had taken part in a previous trial and had obstructive sleep apnea.

These volunteers underwent an MRI brain scan and underwent overnight sleep lab monitoring.

They were divided into 3 groups based on the severity of sleep apnea that had been detected, but all of them were believed to be dementia-free at the beginning and conclusion of the research.

The study discovered that individuals with severe sleep apnea had more white matter hyperintensities, which are microscopic lesions in the brain’s white matter that can be observed on an MRI, than those with mild to moderate sleep apnea. Serious apnea sufferers also tended to have less deep and slow wave sleep, and an absence of deep sleep was similarly linked to higher white matter hyperintensities.

As we age, white matter hyperintensities usually increase in frequency. However, a higher incidence of ailments like dementia and stroke has been related to having more of these lesions.

According to the study’s authors, this probable relationship is thus quite concerning.

Study author Diego Carvalho says that “These biomarkers are signs of early cerebrovascular disease. Finding that serious sleep apnea and a reduction in slow wave sleep are associated with these biomarkers is essential since there’s no treatment for these brain changes, so we need to find ways to prevent them from taking place or getting worse.”

The precise nature of the connection between these biomarkers and sleep apnea is still unknown.

For starters, it’s unclear from these results if having severe sleep apnea truly makes these lesions more prevalent. It is possible that these lesions precede sleep apnea, exacerbate it, or that another cause increases the likelihood of developing either condition.

Longer-term studies will be required, according to the researchers, to validate a cause-and-effect relationship and to respond to additional queries.

“More research is necessary to determine whether sleep problems affect these brain biomarkers or vice versa. We also need to look into whether strategies to improve sleep or treatment of sleep apnea can affect the trajectory of these biomarkers,” Carvalho stated.


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Katherine Baldwin

Katherine is just getting her start as a journalist. She attended a technical school while still in high school where she learned a variety of skills, from photography to nutrition. Her enthusiasm for both natural and human sciences is real so she particularly enjoys covering topics on medicine and the environment.

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