People think obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) simply causes poor-quality sleep. Recent studies suggest, however, that there may be more to it than that. Indeed, results from specialized MRIs designed to monitor brain activity indicated a weakened blood flow response in some patients suffering from OSA.
People affected by OSA often experience decreased perfusion, the heart’s ability to pump oxygenated blood to parts of the body, and inadequate blood regulation in the brain. to determine the effect OSA had on blood flow in the brain, researchers subjected study participants, with and without OSA, to global blood volume and oxygen dependent signals, which allowed the visual assessment of differences in blood flow response during three activities: a breathing exercise that raised the pressure in the chest, a hand grip challenge, and the submersion of one foot in icy water.
While participants had fairly comparable results during the breathing activity, a weaker blood flow response was recorded in participants with OSA in the other two challenges.
The study suggests that the part of the brain affected by OSA may delay the transmission of nerve signals from the arms and legs regarding sensation and muscle movement. Thus, the weakened blood flow response seems to directly impact nerve response. This idea is supported by the fact that the breathing exercise, which resulted in similar measurements between participants, did not require muscle movement, therefore not eliciting the same response from the brain as the other two activities.
While the study did not address additional OSA-related problems, these findings can lead to more informed diagnosis and treatment.