New Research Connects Obstructive Sleep Apnea to Brain Injuries

sleep photoThose who live with sleep apnea understand the struggles of getting a sound night’s sleep. They also know the horror of waking up after moments of not breathing. It’s like having been under water for too long. That first breath following is almost a fight to breath life back into the limbs and brain.

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are three forms in which sleep apnea occurs: central sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea and complex sleep apnea. In central sleep apnea, the person ceases to breathe at all, or does so, so shallowly that their oxygen intake is too minuscule for results. With OSA the person’s airways have collapsed. Complex sleep apnea is a mixture of the two, but is usually caused from untreated OSA. While OSA is easier to treat, as it is only a matter of keeping air passages open, research has recently indicated that it may be the more damaging form of sleep apnea.

The Study

According to a study conducted at UCLA, “sleep apnea plays a major role in the breakdown of the blood–brain barrier, which assists in protecting brain tissue.” The blood-brain barrier is semi permeable, meaning it allows in certain materials while keeping others out. It has three primary functions: protecting the brain from foreign invaders, i.e bacteria, chemicals, infections, it keeps out residual hormones and neurotransmitters from other parts of the body and it helps to keep a leveled homeostasis for the brain. While certain factors, such as hyper tension, radiation and trauma have been associated with the breakdown of this essential membrane, OSA has now been added to that list.

Rajesh Kumar, the lead researcher of the study said, “We found that the blood–brain barrier becomes more permeable in obstructive sleep apnea, a breakdown that could contribute to brain injury, as well as potentially enhancing or accelerating the damage.” A more permeable blood-brain barrier means more chance for foreign invaders to enter the brain. Information surrounding this new discovery claims that a malfunctioning blood-brain barrier has been highly correlated with Alzheimer’s, stroke, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, meningitis and multiple other hampering and potentially fatal conditions.

The study was enabled through the use of magnetic resonance imaging, a technology that has only been utilized by only a handful of researchers. The miracle of technology! Researchers hypothesize that this breakdown of the BBB, which they found through this technology, occurs as a result of limited oxygen to the brain, though they have not found conclusive evidence. During the study, they found that people who had been recently diagnosed with OSA, and who had not yet been treated, had a more permeable BBB than that of those who had been receiving treatments or who did not have OSA.

What You Can Do for Sleep Apnea

If you have, or suspect that you have sleep apnea you should consult with a sleep apnea expert right away. If you know someone who is suffering from this condition, educate them and encourage them to seek professional help as well.  As the study indicated, those who received treatment were more likely to  have a better functioning BBB. Treatment can protect you not only from sleepless nights but from brain injury and potentially life threatening conditions, also. A simple consultation with Dan Matthews DDS can begin your road to corrective measures. He can work with you to find the best treatment option for your type of sleep apnea.

Dan Matthews DDS
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