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Your Healthy Family: Stroke recovery reveals serious sleep disorder

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After recovering from a stroke Dave learned he suffered from severe complex sleep apnea After recovering from a stroke Dave learned he suffered from severe complex sleep apnea

Today we’re following up on our Your Healthy Family story of how Dave Csintyan survived a stroke because he didn’t ignore the warning signs: trouble with his eyesight, weakness in his arms and slurred speech.

With UCHealth Memorial Central in Colorado Springs now designated as a comprehensive stroke center, it’s important to educate the southern Colorado community to recognize the signs of a stroke and react to them as proactively as most people do when they have chest pain and think ‘heart attack.’  A brain attack if you will can be just as debilitating or deadly as a heart attack and needs to be acted on quickly.  It all boils down to knowing and remembering BE FAST.

B - Balance

E - Eyesight

F - Facial Drooping

A - Arm Strength

S - Slurred Speech, or Trouble Speaking

T - Time to Call 9-1-1

Comprehensive stroke care includes more than the many professionals at UCHealth who are involved in getting a person through a stroke. It also involves rehab and finding out if they can determine what may have caused the stroke in the first place.

In Dave’s case, his follow-up team involved cardiology and sleep medicine.  He’s now on a blood thinner, and his heart is being monitored to rule out Afib. He also underwent two sleep studies.  So far Dave says it’s been “crickets” on the Afib front, but his sleep tests revealed a serious diagnosis.

Dave says, “I have severe complex sleep apnea, I have some obstructive apnea, which is when your throat closes (while you sleep). It’s common for most folks.  What makes my sleep apnea more difficult

is my brain was deciding not to tell my body to breath, also known as central apnea.”

An easier way to think of the difference between obstructive and central apnea is that obstructive is a mechanical breathing problem because of anatomy.  Central apnea begins in the brain, and is more of a system malfunction, because the brain isn’t sending the signals to your body to breath.

Both central and obstructive apnea in severe cases is treated by creating positive air flow while a person sleeps.  A cpap is used for obstructive apnea by keeping the airway open with one pressure setting.  A bipap is needed for central apnea and can adjust to different air flow pressures to help with inhaling and exhaling.

In hindsight Dave says he sees some subtle red flags of his sleep apnea.  “I don't think I slept (well) in the past.  I could answer the phone on the first ring in the middle of the night and have a lucid conversation. I don't think you're sleeping (deeply) when that happens.  I could also in the middle of the day lay down to read a book, and be asleep after the first page.”

For now, Dave tells me his now-diagnosed sleep apnea is the biggest suspect that likely caused his stroke.  The National Stroke Foundation says sleep apnea can be an after-effect of stroke, but it can also be the cause of a first-time or recurrent stroke.  Either way, Dave's overall quality of life is much better now that his apnea is being treated.  He tells me he sleeps deeply for a full eight hours, and has more energy than he knows what do with throughout his day.  

“If my bipap were an illegal drug, it would have to be (like) crack.  I've never used an illegal drug but let me tell you I sleep like a baby now.”

While Dave’s sleep apnea story has come to a happy ending, and he tells all his friends to look at their lives closely for the signs apnea, his larger mission is to tell everyone he can about the importance of knowing BE FAST when it comes to stroke because knowing exactly what to do is the key to the best treatment and recovery.

Dave’s bottom line for all of us is, “Don't work your own problem.  Call 9-1-1, don't let anyone drive you to the hospital because there are too many variables in that equation.  Let the team of professionals do what professionals do and you'll get to the best possible solution you can.  Don't let your ego get in the way,  don't try to sleep it off, act immediately.  I'm a testimonial that the results can be pretty good.”

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