FRIDAY, Nov. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Obstructive sleep apnea may
cause structural defects in the brain's gray matter, resulting in
problems with cognitive functions such as attention and memory, a
new study suggests.
These brain changes are likely caused by the intermittent oxygen
deprivation that occurs in people with obstructive sleep apnea
(OSA), who temporarily stop breathing many times each night.
A small Italian study of 17 patients with OSA and 15 age-matched
controls found reduced gray matter in the OSA group in several key
regions of the brain connected with abstract reasoning and
executive function, along with deficits in the left cortex, which
were shown to be linked to daytime sleepiness.
The participants in the OSA group also had impaired memory,
attention, executive function, and constructional abilities, as
well as higher sleepiness scores.
However, the brain changes are partially or fully reversible
with early detection and treatment with continuous positive airway
pressure (CPAP), said the Italian researchers.
The findings appear online and in an upcoming print issue of the
American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care
"This study provides the first evidence that structural brain abnormalities exist in regions susceptible to hypoxemia [low oxygen levels in the blood], and they can change with treatment," Vincenza Castronovo, a clinical psychologist at the Sleep Disorders Center, Vita-Salute San Raffaele University and San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, said in a journal news release.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
has more about