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Sleep Apnea and Migraines: Is There a Connection?

Posted by Migraine Relief Center on Nov 18, 2014 7:00:00 AM

Some migraine specialists believe that most of their patients are not aware that they suffer from sleep breathing disorders. These are patients who tend to blame their migraines whenever they don't get a good night's sleep or when they feel restless and anxious. Sleep apnea is a condition that causes a temporary cessation of breathing when patients are in a soporific state; the most severe cases are obstructive and result in harsh snoring and gasping for air that may interrupt sleep several times.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs in about ten percent of adults. Soft, regular snoring is a form of sleep apnea that most patients, particularly men, are able to live with. Women are not as likely to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, but their health tends to be more deeply affected.

Sleep Apnea Can Trigger Migraine Episodes

Migraine patients who snore are often advised to consult an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist to ensure that their airways are not too narrow and that they are free from obstructions. Snorers who are not able to sleep on their backs tend to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when their airways muscles relax to the point of not allowing them to breathe for 10 seconds or longer.

The most obvious connection between sleep apnea and migraines is related to stress. This is very obvious for patients who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea since they wake up numerous times each night. Insomnia leads to irritability and ultimately stress, which is the most common migraine trigger.

Sleep apnea can be misdiagnosed in migraine patients when physicians believe that cephalalgia episodes are causing loss of sleep. In many cases, it is the other way around. Sleep apnea takes away quality rest, which happens to be one of the best treatments for chronic migraines.

How Migraines and Sleep Apnea Affect the Brain

An unfortunate connection between sleep apnea and migraines is centered on gradual brain damage. When left untreated, these two medical conditions may lead to the following:

Although migraines are of a neurochemical nature, they share some vascular characteristics with sleep apnea. Both conditions can cause potential damage to the brain due to diminished cranial circulation, hence increasing risk of stroke and other issues such as memory loss.

Each time a patient who suffers from obstructive sleep apnea experiences a breathing cessation episode that lasts longer than 10 seconds, the blood oxygen levels in the brain are impacted negatively. The cumulative effect of irregular snorts and sudden gasps may result in brain damage that may prove difficult to reverse. A similar situation can be observed in patients who suffer from chronic migraines with aura; each cephalalgia episode has the potential to cause slight brain damage.

Treating Sleep Apnea in Migraine Patients

Although there is no definitive cure for migraines, the same cannot be said about sleep apnea. Some patients whose airways present an anatomical obstruction that can be surgically corrected may be able to find permanent relief through ENT procedures that are not too invasive.

Breathing devices that can be comfortably worn at night are another treatment option for sleep apnea. Migraine patients who also suffer from sleep apnea tend to improve their overall health considerably if they give priority to treating their sleep disorders.

For many patients, being able to breathe correctly at night provides substantial relief in the sense that they are able to reduce the frequency of their migraine episodes. Some patients are able to transform their migraine conditions from chronic to occasional just by improving their sleep patterns. By doing so, they are also reducing their risk of developing hypertension and strokes later in their lives.

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Topics: Causes

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