A new study posted in the most recent edition of the Journal of Neuroimaging has reported that patients with untreated sleep apnea may be harming their brains.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder in which the patient experiences multiple pauses in breathing during their sleep, and is thought to affect approximately 22 million Americans. There are many different causes for sleep apnea, including obesity, allergies, or acid reflux. Sleep apnea is most commonly treated by a special type of medical equipment that allows the opening of blocked passages, known as a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.
“The technology available in CPAP/BiPAP machines have become pretty impressive as well,” says Bo Brown, President, Mobility Healthcare. “Most insurance plans will require proof that the patient is compliant with their CPAP/BiPAP therapy. All of the machines we sell are able to connect to the internet and upload information to a portal that both the medical equipment company and medical professionals have access to.”
In the study, scientists found that sleep apnea can harm the brain by breaking down the blood-brain barrier, which helps protect the brain tissue. This barrier prevents bacteria, infections, and chemicals from affecting the brain. Its breakdown can potentially lead to the development of other serious conditions, such as stroke, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis.
”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,” says Rajesh Kumar, principal investigator of the study and associate professor at the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine. ”This type of brain injury in obstructive sleep apnea has significant consequences to memory, mood and cardiovascular risk.”
Previous research has also shown that patients with sleep apnea may also suffer from high blood pressure, memory loss, fatigue, depression, and anxiety.
During the study, researchers used a unique MRI procedure that measures the breakdown of the blood barrier. They found that patients with sleep apnea have weaker blood-brain barriers than those of “healthy” people.
“This suggests that besides improving breathing in obstructive sleep apnea patients, we need to repair or improve blood–brain barrier function, perhaps by using treatments already available for other conditions,” said Kumar.