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White Matter Brain Damage Reversed By Sleep Apnea Therapy

Update Date: Sep 08, 2014 05:29 PM EDT

Sleep apnea can seriously wreck the brain. However, new research reveals that brain damage caused by the sleep disorder is reversible.

New research reveals that continues positive airway pressure therapy could help reverse the damage done to the brain's white matter.

New research reveals that people with severe, untreated sleep apnea exhibited significant decreases in white matter fiber integrity in many different brain regions.  This decrease then leads to impairments in thinking, mood and daytime alertness.

Researchers found that three months of continues positive airway pressure therapy led to some improvements in damaged brain structures. However, a year of continues positive airway pressure therapy led to an almost compete reversal of white matter abnormalities.

Researchers said the findings are important as the reversal of white matter abnormalities was linked to significantly improvements in nearly all cognitive tests, mood, attention and quality of life.

"Structural neural injury of the brain of obstructive sleep apnea patients is reversible with effective treatment," lead author Vincenza Castronovo, PhD, clinical psychologist at the Sleep Disorders Center at San Raffaele Hospital and Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milano, Italy, said in a news release. "Treatment with CPAP, if patients are adherent to therapy, is effective for normalizing the brain structure."

"Obstructive sleep apnea is a destructive disease that can ruin your health and increase your risk of death," said American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler, a national spokesperson for the Healthy Sleep Project, according to a statement released by the organization. "Treatment of sleep apnea can be life-changing and potentially life-saving."

"We are seeing a consistent message that the brain can improve with treatment," co-co-researcher Mark Aloia, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado, and Senior Director of Global Clinical Research for Philips Respironics, Inc., added. "We know that PAP therapy keeps people breathing at night; but demonstrating effects on secondary outcomes is critical, and brain function and structure are strong secondary outcomes."

The findings were published in the journal Sleep.

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