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Sleep Apnea Can Hurt Your Brain?

Are you having trouble sleeping? Do you snore loudly? Maybe your spouse has noticed pauses in your breathing. Is your sleep restless? Do you wake up the next morning with a headache? Are you excessively tired throughout the day? Do you have trouble concentrating or find yourself getting sleepy during the day?

If you said yes to any of these questions, you may be suffering from sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea affects 5-10% of adults in the US and can often go undiagnosed. With dangerous symptoms often overlooked and associated with a number of health risks, it’s important to get treatment as soon as possible.

According to a new study from the UCLA School of Nursing, sleep apnea might even be hurting our brains. It was discovered that blood flow to your brain can change if you have sleep apnea. This is because with untreated sleep apnea, the heart can also have problems pumping blood to the body, which can reduce the amount of blood that gets to your brain. As you are probably already aware, blood is the bodies transport for many different substances which includes oxygen. Combine that with the interruptions of breathing during sleep apnea which also decreases the oxygen brought into your body, means even less oxygen is transported to your brain. If the oxygen level in the blood drops, this leads to cellular damage throughout the body and brain. If sleep apnea is left untreated, it could lead to brain cell damage, high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, diabetes, depression and other serious health problems.

The UCLA study looked at both men and women (with and without obstructive sleep apnea), and used a special scan to measure blood volume and oxygen dependent signals in the brain. Researchers measured three physical tasks while the participant was awake. Breathing out through a very small tube to raise the pressure in the chest, a hand grip test, and a test where the participant’s right foot was put in icy water for a minute.

The breathing test didn’t show much difference between those with or without sleep apnea, however the hand grip and ice water challenges showed people with sleep apnea had a much weaker blood flow response.

Researchers believe that the reason that the participants with sleep apnea had weaker blood flow was because the signals to the nerves in the arms and legs had to go through the areas of the brain that control sensation and muscle movement. Because of the damage to the brain that sleep apnea causes, these signals traveled slower than in the participants without sleep apnea.

The study also found that the problem was greater in women with sleep apnea and researchers are now studying to see if there can be treatment that can reverse the damaging effects of this condition.
Here at the dental office of Michael Law and David Warren, we have a special focus on your overall health including the treatment of sleep apnea. Give us a call and schedule a consultation at 575-524-5812. We’re here to help.