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“Does Sleep Apnea Hurt Your Brain?”

 Having trouble sleeping? Do you snore loudly? Maybe your spouse has noticed pauses in your breathing. Is your sleep restless? Do you wake up the next morning with a headache? Are you excessively tired throughout the day? Do you have trouble concentrating or find yourself getting sleepy during the day?

sleep apnea

If you said yes to any of these… you might have sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea affects 5-10% of adults in the US and can often go undiagnosed. With dangerous symptoms often overlooked and associated with a number of health risks, it’s important to get treatment as soon as possible.

A new study from the UCLA School of Nursing now suggests that sleep apnea might even be hurting our brains. They discovered that blood flow to your brain can change if you have sleep apnea. The heart has problems pumping blood to the body and this can reduce the amount of blood (and oxygen) that gets to your brain.

Each time a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep, sometimes hundreds of times a night, the oxygen level in the blood drops and that can damage many cells in the body. If left untreated, it could lead to high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, diabetes, depression and other serious health problems.

The UCLA study looked at both men and women (with and without obstructive sleep apnea), and used a special scan to measure blood volume and oxygen dependent signals in the brain. Researchers measured three physical tasks while the participant was awake. Breathing out through a very small tube to raise the pressure in the chest, a hand grip test, and a test where the participant’s right foot was put in icy water for a minute.

The breathing test didn’t show much difference between those with or without sleep apnea, however the hand grip and ice water challenges showed people with sleep apnea had a much weaker blood flow response.

Researchers believe that the reason that the participants with sleep apnea had weaker blood flow was because the signals to the nerves in the arms and legs had to go through the areas of the brain that control sensation and muscle movement. Because of the damage to the brain that sleep apnea causes, these signals traveled slower than in the participants without sleep apnea.

The study also found that the problem was greater in women with sleep apnea and researchers are now studying to see if there can be treatment that can reverse the damaging effects of this condition.

Here at Uptown Dental Gig Harbor, we have a special focus on your overall health including the treatment of sleep apnea. Give us a call and schedule a consultation at 253.857.0835 or visit us at www.UptownDentalGigHarbor.com. We’re here to help.

The Importance of Dental Care Following a Stroke


How to Help a Loved One Recovering from a Stroke: 4 Factors to Consider

When a loved one suffers a stroke, it’s understandably scary for them and their loved ones. And often things do not get any easier in the recovery phase. According to the National Caregivers Library, many stroke victims experience weakness (or even paralysis), difficulties speaking, problems swallowing and more.

These effects are difficult for both the patient and their caregiver to handle. Fortunately, there are many resources available for caregivers that can help navigate this difficult process. After my husband’s mom had a stroke a couple of years ago, I did some research to find out how we could help her recover. Here are few important pieces of advice that I found:

Don’t neglect dental care.  I found this to be an essential reminder. Of course, dental hygiene is important, but with everything else going on following a loved one’s stroke, you may not think to keep an eye on their dental care. As DimensionsofDentalHygiene notes, many aspects of having a stroke, such as “facial palsy and lack of sensation” can contribute to dental problems. It recommends looking into assistive dental care devices to help ensure your loved one is receiving the dental hygiene they need. For example, three-headed toothbrushes and power toothbrushes can be help you ensure their teeth are getting a good cleaning.

Encourage exercise.  Especially if they’re experiencing difficulty moving one of their limbs, your loved one may not be too keen on the idea of exercise following their stroke. Or at least, my mother-in-law wasn’t. But I did convince her to join me at the pool. I had always loved swimming, and as this guide on stroke recovery explains, it’s actually an excellent way for stroke victims to exercise. So, after coaxing her to the pool with the promise that she could just stand in the water if that’s all she wanted to do, I got her to give it a try. She ended up really enjoying being in the water, and as a result, began attending aquatic therapy as part of her recovery.

Watch for signs of depression.  Here’s something else I wasn’t aware of prior to my husband’s mom’s stroke: as WebMD.com notes 30 – 50 percent of stroke sufferers go on to have depression. Be sure you know the signs of depression and be on the look out for them. And this is another great reason to emphasize the need for exercise as it has been shown to help people who suffer from depression.

Be a source of encouragement.  Know that this is a difficult time for your loved one. In many cases, they’re having to adjust to a completely different way of life. Whenever possible, offer a kind word.These tips on stroke recovery support suggest that you attend some of your loved one’s rehabilitation sessions so that you can encourage them as they progress through their treatment. Those words of praise will go a long way.

My mother-in-law was a fairly easy patient, but there were times during her recovery that even she would get angry and lash out at those around her. Don’t take it personally. Be patient and act as a constant source of support.

Are Headaches Affecting Your Quality of Life?

Do your headaches make you feel tired and irritable? Or perhaps you’re depressed or feel guilty because you’ve lost time with your family and can’t function well at work. One patient told me, “I only get headaches twice a month, but they’re “doozies!”

Chronic headache problems are not necessarily a condition that’s all in your head. The source of this pain can often be traced back to Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD), which is a condition that affects one or both of the temporomandibular joints.

These joints work together to facilitate jaw movements needed for chewing and speaking. TMD can affect the TM joints, jaw muscles, and facial nerves when a person opens or closes the mouth.

Typical TMD symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Neck pain
  • Ear pain
  • Jaw tenderness
  • Jaw pain when chewing, biting, or yawning
  • Difficulty opening or closing the mouth
  • Sensitive teeth

More than 15 percent of adults nationwide suffer from chronic facial pain, and it is usually a direct symptom of TMD. It can occur as a result of arthritis, a dislocated or broken jaw, or having an improper bite. Overuse of jaw muscles, clenching teeth, or grinding teeth can cause symptoms to increase in severity. This means bad headaches and other forms of crippling facial pain.

Past automobile accidents or a fall can throw off the head and neck muscles and tendons, resulting in an imbalance in the head and neck. This imbalance then throws off the TMD and your bite relationship, resulting in headaches.

Dealing with TMD-caused pain

If you suffer from chronic headaches, have you had your face and jaw examined for a proper diagnosis? If not, you might see your physician, a neurologist, a chiropractor or a physical therapist and find that things get better, for a short time. You can end up like a ‘dog chasing its tail’ if your bite is a factor in the cause of your headaches.

There are non-surgical treatments for TMD-based headaches and facial pain. These treatments include:

  • Taking anti-inflammatory pain relievers
  • Applying heat packs to affected areas
  • Using relaxation techniques to reduce stress
  • Wearing an oral appliance to prevent teeth grinding in your sleep
  • The use of cold laser, micro-electric current and ultrasound, which reduce inflammation, break up adhesions and improve healing
  • Muscle therapy, stretching exercises and homecare

Most TMD symptoms will subside and eventually go away with proper treatment. We can prescribe a proper care routine for reducing TMD symptoms that will eliminate discomfort felt during normal activities like eating or talking. If TMD symptoms are too severe, we may recommend further treatment to correct teeth alignment, or to realign the jaw.

The bottom line is that living with headaches is not necessary. A simple dental exam at our Gig Harbor, WA, office can start you on the path to permanent pain relief. Contact us to schedule an appointment today!