London: Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy can help reverse brain damage caused by severe sleep apnea, says a study.
Untreated sleep apnea may lead to a significant reduction in white matter fiber integrity in multiple brain areas and the brain damage can be accompanied by impairments to cognition, mood and daytime alertness.
"Structural neural injury of the brain of sleep apnea patients is reversible with effective treatment," said lead author Vincenza Castronovo from the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milano, Italy.
"Treatment with CPAP, if patients are adherent to therapy, is effective for normalising the brain structure," Castronovo added.
Sleep apnea warning signs include snoring, choking, gasping or silent breathing pauses during sleep.
The study involved 17 men with severe, untreated sleep apnea who had an average age of 43 years.
They were evaluated at baseline and after three and 12 months of treatment with CPAP therapy.
The researchers found that although three months of CPAP therapy produced only limited improvements to damaged brain structures, 12 months of CPAP therapy led to an almost complete reversal of white matter abnormalities.
Treatment also produced significant improvements in cognitive tests, mood, alertness and quality of life.
"Sleep apnea is a destructive disease that can ruin your health and increase your risk of death," said Timothy Morgenthaler, president, American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
"Treatment of sleep apnea can be life-changing and potentially life-saving," Morgenthaler added.
The study appeared in the journal Sleep.