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Obstructive sleep apnea
This sleep disorder significantly increases the risk of stroke, and the increase is independent of other risk factors, including hypertension, according to a study by the Yale Center for Sleep Medicine. According to the American Heart Association, one in five adults suffers from at least mild sleep apnea, and it afflicts more men than women. It’s often, but not always, associated with obesity, which in itself is a risk factor for heart disease.
The connection: When you periodically stop breathing, you are (obviously) not getting enough oxygen. The brain sends an all-stations alert, which fires up your blood pressure, makes your heart beat faster and promotes inflammation, damaging blood vessels over time.
Heart-saver: Do people tell you that you snore a lot? Or that you stop breathing periodically while you sleep? Do you find yourself waking suddenly, gasping for breath? Get yourself to a sleep clinic for an assessment. (Contact the American Academy of Sleep Medicine to find one near you.) Treatments include lifestyle adjustments (losing weight, quitting smoking), a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to be used at night, an oral appliance to keep your throat open and, in severe cases, surgery.