Stroke and sleep apnea: Strange bed partners

Stroke and sleep apnea manStroke researchers now know that sleep apnea is very common after stroke. We have found that about 75% of stroke patients have sleep apnea. This is important because sleep apnea has wide-ranging consequences for stroke patients.

Why it’s important for sleep apnea to be diagnosed in stroke patients

Sleep apnea is a predictor of poor outcomes following stroke, such as greater disability and higher mortality. The exact reasons for this are unknown at this time and warrant further study.

In addition, it is possible that sleep apnea contributes to increased stroke risk by promoting atherosclerosis, hyper coagulability (an abnormally increased tendency for the blood to clot) and adverse effects on cerebral hemodynamics (the forces involved in the circulation of blood in the brain). 

Why sleep apnea is difficult to detect

Most stroke patients are not even aware that they have sleep apnea because they often don’t have traditional sleep apnea symptoms, such as daytime sleepiness. In fact, the sleep questionnaires that physicians use to detect sleep apnea pretty well in the general population don’t work very well in stroke patients.

Therefore, for sleep apnea to be diagnosed properly in a stroke patient, a physician or medical professional must perform a physiological sleep test.

How to help

If you have had a stroke or have or suspect you have sleep apnea issues, you may want to consider participating in a research study. Your participation could help answer these and other questions—and significantly contribute to a better quality of life for many people.

Patient participation in research will be key to understanding the relationship between stroke and sleep apnea better and ultimately will help us treat stroke patients more effectively.

Next steps

DevinBrown2Devin L. Brown, M.D., M.S., is a Professor of Neurology and Director of the Vascular Neurology Fellowship Program in the University of Michigan Medical School. Dr. Brown is committed to excellent patient care, educating the next generation of stroke physicians and performing cutting-edge research to lessen the impact of stroke. Her research interests are sleep disorders and stroke, health services research and health disparities research.


Neurosciences logoThe University of Michigan Health System’s Comprehensive Stroke Program holds the official certification of Comprehensive Stroke Center, granted by the Joint Commission accrediting organization and recognized by the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association. Fewer than 100 other hospitals in the country have achieved this elite status.