Obstructive Sleep Apnea as an Independent Stroke Risk Factor: A Review of the Evidence, Stroke Prevention Guidelines, and Implications for Neuroscience Nursing Practice

J Neurosci Nurs. 2016 Jun;48(3):133-42. doi: 10.1097/JNN.0000000000000196.


Background: Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability affecting nearly 800,000 people in the United States every year. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is found in over 60% of patients with stroke/transient ischemic attack (TIA) and identified as an independent stroke risk factor in large epidemiology studies and Canadian Stroke Prevention Guidelines (SPG) but not in the United States. The 2014 Secondary SPG recommend OSA screening and treatment as a consideration only, not a requirement. The twofold purpose of this article is, first, to present the evidence supporting OSA as an independent stroke risk factor in national SPG with mandatory recommendations and, second, to engage neuroscience nurses to incorporate OSA assessment and interventions into the nursing process and thereby promote excellence in stroke/TIA patient care.

Methods: A systematic literature search was conducted in Medline, CINAHL, and PubMed to identify research from 2003 through 2013 on the independent risk, mortality, and prevalence relationship between OSA and stroke/TIA including recurrence and recovery outcomes with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy.

Results: Twenty-eight research articles were reviewed: 14 observational cohorts, five case-control studies, four cross-sectional studies, and four randomized control trials representing 12 countries and 10,671 subjects.

Discussion: OSA is highly prevalent in patients with stroke/TIA independently increasing stroke risk. CPAP studies revealed reduced stroke recurrence and improved recovery with feasible initiation in stroke units. Patients with stroke/TIA have less OSA-associated daytime sleepiness and obesity, making the usual screening tools insufficient and CPAP adherence challenging. Treating OSA decreases stroke prevalence and mortality. OSA initiatives empower neuroscience nurses to integrate this OSA evidence into clinical practice and improve stroke/TIA patient outcomes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Ischemic Attack, Transient / complications*
  • Ischemic Attack, Transient / diagnosis
  • Neuroscience Nursing
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / complications*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / diagnosis
  • Stroke / complications*
  • Stroke / diagnosis