Treating sleep apnea may improve stroke outcomes

If treatment of sleep apnea occurs immediately after a stroke or mini-stroke, new research shows that it may improve patients’ neurological symptoms and daily functioning. More than 20 million adults in the U.S. have obstructive sleep apnea, which has been linked with increased risk for heart attack, hypertension, sudden death, stroke and faster progression of cardiovascular disease.

In a recent study, researchers found that stroke patients who were diagnosed with sleep apnea saw greater improvements in both neurological symptoms and daily ability to function when they used treatment for OSA. This was in comparison to patients with sleep apnea who only received typical medical care.

Sleep apnea and stroke

The study looked at 252 adults that were hospitalized for an ischemic stroke or a mini-stroke, which is known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Every participant was screened for sleep apnea. Researchers found that three-quarters of patients had sleep apnea and about two-thirds of those patients with sleep apnea were assigned to one of two interventions that included receiving CPAP therapy, training and encouragement. The other one-third with sleep apnea served as a control group and received usual medical care, plus recommendation at the end of the study to seek CPAP treatment.

Patients’ neurological symptoms and their ability to function in normal activities, such as walking and self care, were assessed at the beginning of the study and six months to one year later. At follow-up, all patients experienced improvement in both neurological symptoms and functional status. However, 59 percent of the patients who used CPAP had neurological symptoms scores at or close to normal. This was in contrast to 38 percent who had just received typical medical care.

If you treat sleep apnea early, the better your stroke outcome will be. Contact Dr. Mayoor Patel to discuss this further. What are some ways to help your patients now and in the future? My guess is that we will need to continue to build upon our relationships with physicians in our communities.