Sleep-The New Risk Factor In Predicting Strokes

On Behalf of | Feb 28, 2015 | Medical Malpractice

Strokes are a silent killer. If caught in time(within 3 hours of onset) the effects of a stroke can be minimized.  However, if left untreated, strokes can cause life altering damages or fatality. Thus, the key is recognizing what the risk factors are for stroke-both in terms of prevention and diagnosis.

Pursuant to The American Heart Association, the risk factors associated with stroke are divided into 2 categories-those that can’t be changed, and those that can be altered.

Risk Factors of Stroke That Cannot Be Changed

  • Age-The chance of having a stroke doubles for each decade of life after age 55, but the occurrence of strokes in young adults is on the rise.
  • Heredity (family history)-Your stroke risk may be greater if a parent, grandparent, sister or brother has had a stroke.
  • Race-Due to other factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity-African Americans have a much higher risk of death from a stroke than Caucasians do.
  • Sex-women have more strokes than men, and stroke kills more women than men.
  • Prior stroke, TIA or heart attack — The risk of stroke for someone who has already had one is many times that of a person who has not. Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are “warning strokes” that produce stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage. TIAs are strong predictors of stroke. A person who’s had one or more TIAs is almost 10 times more likely to have a stroke than someone of the same age and sex who hasn’t. Recognizing and treating TIAs can reduce your risk of a major stroke. TIA should be considered a medical emergency and followed up immediately with a healthcare professional. If you’ve had a heart attack, you’re at higher risk of having a stroke, too.  As lawyers who specialize in representing victims of medical malpractice, stroke cases are most often litigated over TIA’s.  Specifically, the actions of the doctors and nurses do not often account for the increased risk of stroke following a TIA, and an otherwise preventable event can go untreated.

Risk Factors That Can Be Controlled

  • High blood pressure — No surprise here.  High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke and the most important controllable risk factor for stroke.
  • Cigarette smoking –  Goes hand in hand with all other risk factors that are elevated by smoking.
  • Diabetes – While Diabetes is an independent risk factor, it is often associated with other risk factors such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and obesity.
  • Carotid or other artery disease
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Atrial fibrillation — This heart rhythm disorder raises the risk for stroke. The heart’s upper chambers quiver instead of beating effectively, which can let the blood pool and clot. If a clot breaks off, enters the bloodstream and lodges in an artery leading to the brain, a stroke results.  Most patients diagnosed with Atrial fibrillation are placed on Coumadin, a blood thinner.
  • Other heart disease
  • Sickle cell disease
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Poor diet
  • Physical inactivity and obesity — Being inactive, obese or both can increase your risk of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. So go on a brisk walk, take the stairs, and do whatever you can to make your life more active. Try to get a total of at least 30 minutes of activity on most or all days.
  • Sleep – The newcomer to this category.  The real question is whether sleep is truly an independent risk factor or a by product of all the other risk factors.  To that end, you can see that a lot of the risk factors noted above go hand in hand.  For example, a poor diet can lead to high blood cholesterol which can lead to high blood pressure, etc.  So, a good question is whether sleep patterns are altered by those other risk factors, or are sleep patterns the cause of those risk factors?  This is a chicken and egg debate.

Correlation Between Sleep and Strokes

A new study suggests that there is a correlation between the amount of sleep that someone gets and the risk of stroke.  Specifically, the study published in Neurology-the official journal of The American Academy of Neurology, found that individuals who slept more than eight hours were 46% more likely to suffer strokes in the next decade than adults who slept for six to eight hours.   The stroke risk for people who went from sleeping less than six hours to sleeping more than eight hours was nearly four times greater than for people who consistently got six to eight hours of sleep.

When the study participants were examined according to age, the researchers found that sleeping for more than eight hours a night increased stroke risk only for people who were at least 63 years old. On the flip side, they found that sleeping for less than six hours a night heightened stroke risk for younger people more than for older people.

Finally, they discovered that “short” sleepers were more at risk for an ischemic stroke (the kind caused by a clot that blocks blood flow to the brain) while “long” sleepers were more at risk for a hemorrhagic stroke (the kind caused by a ruptured blood vessel bleeds into the brain).

There is no evidence to suggest whether sleeping too much or too little can actually cause a stroke, or whether the biological processes that lead to a stroke also happen to influence sleep. Other studies have linked long sleep times to cardiac problems like atrial fibrillation, atherosclerosis and other conditions that may make a stroke more likely.  Thus, while sleep patterns are by no means the end all be all risk factor, they are another important tool for a reasonably prudent physician to consider when diagnosing a potential stroke, or trying to change habits that could lead to stroke.

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Mark Kaire has been practicing law in Miami for nearly 30 years. He is dedicated to helping the injured people of Miami receive compensation. Mr. Kaire has been blogging on Miami’s legal issues for many years.