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Understanding the Link Between Sleep Apnea and Brain Damage

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According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, about 26 percent of U.S. adults are living with sleep apnea. Many with sleep apnea do not receive the proper treatment. Untreated sleep apnea is often associated with a number of serious health problems, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. However, a lesser-known risk of this sleep apnea is brain damage. If you’re wondering, “can you get brain damage from sleep apnea,” here is everything you need to know.

How Is Sleep Apnea Related to Brain Damage?

To better understand the link between sleep apnea and brain damage, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the inner workings of this sleep disorder.

First, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is known to cause many damaging effects that can directly impact the brain. The primary danger of OSA involves a temporary pause in the flow of oxygen. This halt in airflow can be extremely dangerous for OSA patients. When your breathing pauses or stops completely during sleep, your blood oxygen levels drop dramatically, which may lead to headaches or shortness of breath. In more severe cases, low blood oxygen levels might begin to interfere with your heart and brain function, causing potential long-term cardiovascular effects or brain damage.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) is more directly connected with brain function. Those with CSA tend to experience frequent pauses in their breathing during sleep. Unlike Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which is mainly a result of a blocked airway, Central Sleep Apnea normally occurs because your brain fails to send the appropriate signals to your respiratory muscles to breathe. This can lead to irregularities in breathing while you sleep.

According to some research, CSA is often associated with heart disease, stroke, and other serious medical conditions. The onset of these medical conditions may lead to various forms of brain damage in the long run.

What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea-Induced Brain Damage?

Those who suffer from brain damage caused by sleep apnea may experience a wide range of symptoms. These symptoms can target many different areas of the body, including the bones, digestive system, and nervous system. In addition, some people find that they suffer a number of cognitive symptoms after experiencing sleep apnea-induced brain damage.

Some of the most common sleep apnea and brain damage symptoms include the following:

  • Temporary Loss of Consciousness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Memory Problems
  • Seizures
  • Difficulties With Balance
  • Blurred Vision

If you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself, it’s crucial to seek out the help you need as soon as possible.

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Can Sleep Apnea Cause Brain Damage?

Those living with any form of sleep apnea may have many questions regarding the relationship it has with their brain, such as “can sleep apnea cause confusion?” and “can you get brain damage from sleep apnea?”

First, it’s important to understand how sleep apnea impacts the brain in the long run. One of the biggest risks of untreated sleep apnea is low blood oxygen levels. In cases of Obstructive Sleep Apnea, collapsed tissue in the back of the throat can block the upper airway, which restricts the flow of oxygen in the blood. Similarly, Central Sleep Apnea involves frequent stops and starts in breathing, causing your oxygen levels to drop whenever you experience a pause in breathing while you sleep.

Without an adequate supply of oxygen, the brain can suffer in many ways. Oxygen is essential to proper brain growth and healing. If the flow of oxygen to the brain is disrupted in any way, it may cause long-term damage that can compromise your overall health and well-being. Some of the most common brain damage symptoms include weakness, extreme fatigue, headaches, tremors, confusion, and seizures.

Related Reading: Can you die from sleep apnea?

Sleep Apnea and Brain Fog

Scientists have also discovered a link between sleep apnea and short-term memory loss as well as sleep apnea and brain fog. Both of these are triggered by a disrupted oxygen flow as a result of Obstructive Sleep Apnea. In particular, those who have been diagnosed with OSA have reported experiencing problems with attention, memory, and other executive functions as a direct consequence of insufficient oxygen flow to the brain. In other cases, brain damage caused by OSA can lead to reduced creativity, slow thinking, and a lower intelligence quotient.

Can Brain Damage From Sleep Apnea Be Reversed?

One of the most common concerns among those with sleep apnea is whether their resulting brain damage can ever be reversed. Fortunately, experts have found that it’s possible to undo the damage brought on by Obstructive Sleep Apnea with the proper sleep apnea treatment.

The most common form of treatment for those with sleep apnea is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) treatment. The goal of CPAP therapy is to allow those with sleep apnea to breathe more naturally and easily during sleep. Results of CPAP treatment have been particularly promising among those with Obstructive Sleep Apnea, as a CPAP machine helps prevent your upper airway from becoming blocked whenever you inhale.

Experts have discovered that regular and consistent CPAP treatment plays a critical role in restoring the brain structure of those with sleep apnea to its normal state. CPAP therapy has been shown to improve your mood, energy levels, and overall quality of life in meaningful ways.

Understanding the Relationship Between Sleep Apnea and Brain Damage

Many don’t immediately recognize the potential dangers of untreated sleep apnea. Some only have mild symptoms, such as snoring or a headache, and simply learn to live with their condition. However, we have seen that leaving Obstructive Sleep Apnea or Central Sleep Apnea unaddressed can lead to severe health problems further down the road. The disruption in oxygen flow to the brain may cause various brain damage symptoms, including headaches, confusion, tremors, and fatigue. Fortunately, through regular CPAP therapy, those living with any form of sleep apnea can find relief from their condition and begin to sleep soundly again.

  • Taylor Whitten

    Taylor has seen sleep apnea treatment first-hand and has learned the ins and outs through formal training in CPAP machines, masks, and equipment. She strives to make learning about sleep apnea and sleep apnea therapies a breeze. Interested in sharing your story or have a topic you’d like CPAP.com to investigate? Contact us!

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