‘Untreated sleep apnea can reduce brain function, damage brain tissue’

Lee Han-soo  Published 2019.08.21  16:42  Updated 2019.08.21 16:42


A research team at Seoul National University Bundang Hospital has discovered that sleep apnea can cause damage to the cerebral white matter and the connections between brain cells.

Professor Yoon Chang-ho

Sleep apnea is a common disease that affects 4 to 8 percent of the adult population. The condition is a serious disorder, in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during a person’s sleep.

To find out how sleep apnea affects the brain, the team, led by Professor Yoon Chang-ho at the hospital, examined and compared the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) image of 135 patients with sleep apnea and 165 healthy people without the symptom.

As a result, the researchers confirmed that sleep apnea damages the cerebral white matter in patients. White matter refers to areas of the central nervous system (CNS) mainly made up of myelinated axons, which are responsible for transmitting information in our brain. Also, the MRI image confirmed a change in the structural connectivity that connects brain cells.

“Continued sleep apnea can reduce brain function and damage brain tissue, causing serious complications,” Professor Yoon said. “Therefore, if a patient snores in their sleep or has symptoms of sleep apnea, it is best to treat it early with an accurate diagnosis.”

The results of the research were published in SLEEP, the official journal for the U.S. Sleep Research Society.

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