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Researchers discover the Horrifying New Risks of Sleep Apnea
We know that sleep apnea, which is defined as disrupted breathing throughout the night, can lead to a host of problems when untreated: among them are depression, obesity, diabetes, drowsy driving and heart disease. In some cases, it can even lead to death.
A new study out of UCLA is the first to link obstructive sleep apnea with risks of brain damage. Published yesterday in the Journal of Neuroimaging, the study found that obstructive sleep apnea — which affects an estimated 22 million Americans — can harm the blood-brain barrier, which blocks toxins and bacteria from entering the brain. According to the study, a compromised blood-brain barrier is often associated with brain damage in conditions such as epilepsy, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers compared nine people with obstructive sleep apnea with nine healthy people. The permeability of the blood-brain barrier was much higher in those suffering from the condition.
And as the study notes, the brain damage is likely caused by the difficulty that comes from breathing during sleep apnea. Previous studies have already linked brain damage and reduced oxygen, but this is the first time a study has specifically focused on the link within sleep apnea.
“This suggests that besides improving breathing in obstructive sleep apnea patients, we need to repair or improve blood-brain barrier functions, perhaps by using treatments already available for other conditions,” said the study’s principal investigator Rajesh Kumar, and associate professor in the departments of anesthesiology and radiological sciences at the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine, in a press release.
According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, 80 percent of obstructive sleep apnea cases go undiagnosed. With this new research, it’s more crucial than ever that people suffering from sleep apnea understand their treatment options. Among them: weight loss, the use of a CPAP, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption and surgery.