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Sleep Apnea Causes Brain Damage

Posted Feb 04 2010 8:19pm

A new study in the journal Sleep revealed that using special MRI imaging techniquesuntreated sleep apnea patients have significantly decreased concentrations of gray matter in certain predictable areas of the brain. This means that the density of neurons is much lower than normal. The average AHI was 52and on initial inspection of the MRIthere were no obvious structural abnormalitieswith no differences in the total volume. Howevergray matter density was significantly lower for sleep apnea patients in various areas of the brain that serves important functions such as memorybreathingcardiovascular functionand autonomic function.

This study complements a prior study that showed that OSA patients have multiple dysfunctional areas of the brain.

I think the implications of this study along with various other similar studies are profound. What this means is that if you have obstructive sleep apneayou can literally kill off certain parts of  your brainthat preferentially control your memoryexecutive functionyour breathing patternsand even your your heart rate. Could this be an alternate explanation for central sleep apnea? Maybe this is also why not all patients that use CPAP feel significantly better—perhaps the damage is irreversible. What's frightening is the you can suffer permanent brain damage long before your sleep apnea is even picked up and treated. 

Take a look at the abstract and read the paper if possible. What do you think about these findings? Please enter your opinions in the text box below.

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