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Can Sleep Apnea Cause Brain Damage?

by | Feb 10, 2023

Sleep apnea causes a disruption in breathing during sleep. This can lead to inadequate oxygen intake. The brain requires oxygen in order to function. With this in mind, is brain damage from sleep apnea something you should be concerned about? Learn about the connections and the potential risks.

How Does Sleep Apnea Impact the Brain?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) makes up about 96% of sleep apnea cases. This condition also leads to a momentary pause in airflow. Here’s how this impacts the brain. The brain requires oxygen-rich blood to function properly. When you stop breathing, the blood oxygen levels begin dropping. In minor cases, this may lead to symptoms like waking up short of breath or with a headache but rarely has long-term effects on the brain.

Central Sleep Apnea and Brain Damage

For patients diagnosed with central sleep apnea (CSA), the potential effects on the brain warrant more attention. CSA occurs due to the brain failing to send signals to the respiratory system to breathe. This contrasts with the more common OSA, in which disrupted breathing occurs due to an obstructed airway. Those diagnosed with CSA are more likely to suffer long-term effects due to their condition. This includes brain damage as well as stroke and heart damage.

How Sleep Apnea Affects Brain Function

A study shows that patients with long-term sleep apnea are at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. The research discovered that damage in the brain in sleep apnea patients spread in the same region and pattern as patients with early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Other studies also show that those with sleep apnea begin reporting cognitive impairment faster than non-patients.

Read also: Sleep Apnea May Increase the Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea-Induced Brain Damage

If you have sleep apnea and experience the following issues, then we highly recommend seeing a sleep specialist near you.

  • Forgetfulness
  • Blurred vision
  • Vertigo
  • Migraines
  • Constant daytime fatigue
  • Blackout, or a sudden loss of consciousness
  • Brain fog, or an inability to perform simple cognitive tasks, such as counting or recalling names

Treating Sleep Apnea at Home

There are home remedies you can try to reduce the severity of sleep apnea. However, if you experience sleep disturbances on a nightly basis, it’s best to get professional assistance. Here are some methods to try.

  • Alter your sleep position. One study found that sleep apnea worsens in adults who sleep on their backs. Sleeping on your side may provide some relief. Check out our previous post on the best sleeping positions if you have sleep apnea.
  • Use a humidifier. Low humidity creates dry air that may irritate the airways.
  • Refrain from alcohol. Too much alcohol relaxes the throat muscles which can lead to snoring and interfere with your sleep cycle.

Is Brain Damage from Sleep Apnea Reversible?

Fortunately, if the condition is diagnosed early by a medical professional, much of the brain damage stemming from sleep apnea does appear to be reversible, as recent studies suggest. However, it’s crucial that you seek treatment as early as possible. CPAP and oral appliances provide a noninvasive means to reduce obstructive breathing during sleep. The study revealed that constant restriction in oxygen to the brain can lead to brain inflammation, cell death, and atrophy. However, with treatment, the brain can return to a state of partial normalization.

Seek Help to Prevent the Long-term Effects of Brain Damage

Severe brain damage among sleep apnea patients only occurs in rare and extreme cases, so there is no need to worry about it. Nevertheless, the risks do increase the longer you let your sleep apnea condition go untreated. To begin the road to recovery from sleep apnea in Lafayette, LA, contact SleepWell Louisiana today for a complimentary airway consultation and get fitted for an oral appliance based on your individualistic needs.

Contact us today!