Sleep-disordered breathing and stroke

Clin Chest Med. 2003 Jun;24(2):223-37. doi: 10.1016/s0272-5231(03)00027-3.


Sleep-related breathing disorders are strongly associated with increased risk of stroke independent of known risk factors. The direction of causation favors sleep-disordered breathing leading to stroke rather than the other way around, although definitive proof of this awaits the results of prospective cohort studies. If causal, even a moderately elevated risk of stroke coupled with the high prevalence of sleep-disordered breathing could have significant public health implications. The relationship between sleep-disordered breathing and stroke risk factors is complex, and likely part of the risk for cerebrovascular events is because of higher cardiovascular risk factors in patients with increased RDI. The mechanisms underlying this increased risk of stroke are multi-factorial and include reduction in cerebral blood flow, altered cerebral autoregulation, impaired endothelial function, accelerated atherogenesis, thrombosis, and paradoxic embolism. Because of the effects of sleep-disordered breathing on vascular tone, hypertension is believed to be a major mechanism by which sleep-disordered breathing might influence risk of stroke. Because sleep-related breathing disorders are treatable patients with stroke/TIA should undergo investigation, with a thorough sleep history interview, physical examination, and polysomnography. Treatment of sleep apnea has been shown to improve quality of life, lower blood pressure, improve sleep quality, improve neurocognitive functioning, and decrease symptoms of excessive daytime sleepiness [98]. Further treatment trials are needed to determine whether treatment improves outcome after stroke and whether treatment may serve as secondary prophylaxis and modify the risk of recurrent stroke or death.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Polysomnography
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena
  • Risk Factors
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / complications
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / physiopathology*
  • Stroke / etiology
  • Stroke / physiopathology*