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.

ADHD can exacerbate sleep apnea symptoms

Our patients should not have a problem sleeping–it should be a simple solution. When it’s nighttime and you get tired, going to bed should be the least of our patients’ worries. However, when attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD) is in the picture, it can be even more difficult. Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders and ADHD have a significant connection.

Patients with ADHD are more prone to sleep problems than anyone, and they often go undiagnosed. Sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and even delayed sleep phase syndrome exacerbate ADHD symptoms. And, other times, patients might even be misdiagnosed with ADHD when they really have a sleep disorder.

Tips to help patients sleep

Sleep apnea can often mimic ADHD symptoms, which can cause inattentiveness and restlessness in those who do not have ADHD. At the same time, sleep apnea can also worsen symptoms in patients who do have ADHD.

Before we dive into some tips to share with your patients, let’s look at primary and behavioral sleep problems. Primary sleep disorders are physical conditions that disrupt sleep. This would include sleep apnea. For behaviorally based sleep problems, it is linked to ADHD and are common in children who cannot make the transition to bedtime without commotion that ends up disrupting sleep.

If the sleep condition is related to behavior, try to encourage your patients to do the following:

  • Remove all screens from the bedroom. If they remain, try to turn off all screens at least two hours before bedtime.
  • Go to bed at the same time every night.
  • Get up at the same time every morning.
  • Don’t do work in your bed. Avoid working in your bedroom.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Reduce alcohol and caffeine intake.
  • Review ADHD medications with their doctor.
  • Establish a “winding down” routine before bedtime.

These tips can potentially help patients with ADHD and sleep apnea, but the use of an oral appliance will significantly improve sleep as well. What other tips do you have for your patients that have worked?

Does treating sleep apnea improve diabetes management?

Managing diabetes requires a “day-in, day-out” effort to control the factors that affect blood sugar levels. And what might make it even more difficult to manage symptoms is if you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. A study conducted by a team of scientists, including two professors at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, is working as part of a multi-center project sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

The team of researchers looked to assess what impact treating obstructive sleep apnea has on diabetes self-management. Let’s take a look at what impact treating OSA has on diabetes self-management for our patients.

What is the connection?

OSA is a common disease that is linked to a range of problems in patients with diabetes and those who do not suffer from this condition. From poor work performance to heart failure, sleep apnea is the reason behind many health conditions. It can even make patients with diabetes less sensitive to their insulin.

In a recent study, researchers split patients in half. One half used a CPAP machine to treat their sleep apnea, while the other half used a mock CPAP machine that looks and feels like a regular machine, but does not impart any of its benefits. Throughout the study patients also underwent periodic blood sugar checks.

While the study has not concluded yet, researchers are hopeful that treatment of sleep apnea will help improve diabetes self-management in their patients. If the study does show that using CPAP machines improves blood sugar control in patients with diabetes and sleep apnea, there will be no reason why we should not screen more of our patients with diabetes for OSA.

If a patient has been diagnosed with sleep apnea, physicians can persuade them to use CPAP machines regularly. This can work with oral appliances too. Patients with diabetes struggle so much with their sugar levels. This study can provide some relief knowing there is another option to help improve their health.

I know this study doesn’t focus on oral appliances. But should look to oral appliance therapy as a safe alternative to CPAP for our patients.

Watch Out for Sleep Apnea with New Hypertension Guideline

Since the new hypertension guideline from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association was released in November 2017, the way physicians diagnose and treat high blood pressure has changed. And with the new guideline comes a section on sleep apnea. Have you seen this new guideline yet?  

What does the guideline say?

The new guideline lowers the blood pressure cutoff for a hypertension diagnosis from 140/90 mm Hg to 130/80 mm Hg. And instead of using the term prehypertension, they recommend using stage 1 hypertension for levels of 130 to 139 mm Hg systolic or 80 to 89 mm Hg diastolic pressure and 120 to 129 mm Hg systolic and diastolic of less than 80 as “elevated.”

For obstructive sleep apnea, it is a risk factor for several cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension, coronary and cerebrovascular diseases. Studies have shown that the presence of OSA is associated with an increased risk of hypertension. It has also been hypothesized that treatment for sleep apnea will have more pronounced effects on BP reduction in resistant hypertension.

What does this mean for dentists?

This means we need to be extra cautious of our patients. Now that the level for hypertension has lowered, we need to pay attention to how that affects sleep apnea and vice versa. The guideline also recommends CPAP therapy as an effective form of treatment for improving sleep apnea, but studies that have been conducted showed that its effects on BP were only small.

Through the guideline, we can accept that CPAP therapy is an option, but what about oral appliance therapy? With the number of individuals with hypertension now at almost 50 percent, we need to pay closer attention to OSA and how it affects hypertension and high blood pressure.

Talk to your patients, include information on the health questionnaire and provide educational materials so that you can continue to provide your patients with the care they need and deserve. On top of that continue to complete advanced education to remain up-to-date with important information.