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The Silent Stroke

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is not good for your health. You know that, right?

Just waking up groggy and with a headache because of your sleep apnea is already rough enough.

But did you know that not all the harmful effects of sleep apnea are apparent and in-your-face? There are health risks that wait – just under the surface. It can be heart disease or high blood pressure. You could develop diabetes.

Another high-risk factor is the silent stroke. 

What is a Silent Stroke?

It happens without you knowing.

We all know the symptoms of a 'real' stroke: slurred speech, loss of movement in a limb, or a numbing feeling. For the most part, if you are having a stroke, you'll know about it.

A silent stroke, however, does not announce itself. You can have one without even realizing it.

A silent stroke happens when the blood flow to your brain is suddenly cut off.

The difference from a 'real' stroke is that it affects a part of your brain that does not control movement or speaking.

In fact, some people only realize that they've had a stroke when they have a CT scan or an MRI for something else, and the doctors notice some brain damage. 

Silent But Deadly

Silent strokes are just as damaging as any other type of stroke. They are silent but just as deadly. People often have more than one. Research shows that if you are over seventy, there is a one in three chance that you've already had a silent stroke. And it is like a small wave that builds – its damage is cumulative—eventually, your risk of having a 'real' stroke increases.

Multiple silent strokes can put you at risk for vascular dementia. Symptoms include walking funny, having trouble deciding things, getting lost, forgetting, or losing bladder control. Recent evidence shows that sleep apnea is linked to silent strokes. 

91% of people who had a stroke also had and women are affected equally.

International Stroke Conference of 2012

The International Stroke Conference of 2012

At the International Stroke Conference of 2012, German researchers presented a small study. They found that patients who had these silent strokes also suffer from OSA. The more severe your sleep apnea, the greater your risk of being disabled after a silent stroke. More than 12 million Americans have sleep apnea.

What the researchers found:

91% of people who had a stroke also had OSA. It was identified by an overnight sleep test. It is a too high rate, especially if you keep in mind that OSA only affects about 20% of the general population.

Do you have more than five sleep apnea episodes per night? The silent stroke may be knocking and men and women are affected equally. OSA may be a predictor of a silent stroke, but it can also result from a stroke.

What Should Be Done? 

The researchers said that sleep apnea should be treated the same as high blood pressure. In many ways, there is still a lot we don't know about OSA. It is an underdiagnosed disorder. But, given its strong association with a silent stroke, it is a high-risk condition that cannot be ignored. For example, some people know there is something wrong with their sleeping, but they don't treat it. It can be life-threatening.

More research is needed, but current research has concluded that CPAP therapy has had a positive impact on OSA, including benefits to heart and cardiovascular system.


Isn't it time to get a diagnose if you are experiencing problems sleeping? Especially when not having it treated can have devastating results. With proper diagnosis and treatment, your doctor can help reduce the risk factors for a silent stroke, and certainly a major stroke too.

Based in South Africa, Helena Bester is a medical research author specializing in Sleep Disorders, Obstructive Sleep Apnea and CPAP therapy.
Nov 18th 2022

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