Stroke is the third leading cause of death and major cause of permanent disability in the United States. There are several medical conditions known to increase the risk of having a stroke such as lack of exercise, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, smoking, and high cholesterol. However, the public is less aware that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a common disease, is increasingly considered as treatable risk factor of stroke.
OSA is the presence of repetitive episodes of upper airway obstruction during sleep. Symptoms include snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, pauses in breathing during sleep, gasping for air and frequent waking from sleep. It is diagnosed by a trained physician usually with a help of a sleep study. In addition to sleep interruption, OSA can cause intermittent drops in blood oxygen levels during sleep. It can eventually lead to a disease of arteries called atherosclerosis, which is known to increase risk of having a stroke as well as a heart attack. OSA is associated with high blood pressure, a cause of stroke. In one study (Arzt et al in 2001), risk of having stroke is about 4 times higher in people with OSA. Learn more here.