Hoping to prevent second strokes, the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center is one of the first hospitals in the nation to aggressively battle sleep apnea in stroke patients.
Research done over years at UVRMC and nationwide shows a link between sleep apnea and stroke.
"People who have sleep apnea are at a higher risk for stroke," said Dr. Kevin Call, a neurologist who works with stroke patients. "If we treat sleep apnea, and they've had a stroke once, they are less likely to have another."
Because of this, UVRMC is now "aggressively evaluating people who come in with a stroke," he said. "In a lot of places, sleep apnea is kind of a secondary thought. We've made it a priority."
Sleep apnea happens when people stop breathing while asleep, or have breath that is too shallow or too deep. Anyone with five or more incidents in an hour while sleeping is considered at medical risk, but often people diagnosed in IHC's sleep center have more than 30 incidents per hour.
There are three possible treatments. One is throat surgery, which is not the most effective treatment. Another is a so-called appliance, a small plastic device that looks like a football player's mouth guard. This works well only for people with mild apnea. Most effective is a tube and machine called a CPAP, which stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure.
Sleeping with your face strapped to a machine is a learning experience.
"The reality is we have responses all the way across the board," said Dr. Call. "We have patients who wake up the first morning and say I haven't felt this good ever, who never have a problem. And we have those who say you are kidding me."
For most people, "it takes about two weeks of giving it the old college try" to become used to it, he said.
Anyone who suspects they might benefit from sleep apnea treatment can take an online assessment called the Stop Bang test, said Wayne Woodward, UVRMC sleep technologist. Anyone who has three of eight indicator signs should consider consulting their physicians.
"If someone has observed you stop breathing in your sleep," that is one of the indicators, he said. Snoring and weight are others. Men of all ages, and menopausal women are the most likely to suffer from sleep apnea.
"If you've had a stroke or heart disease, you should go do this test online because people who have one of those two are at higher risk," he said. "Treating sleep apnea is a way of reducing that risk."
People with high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity are also at high risk, Woodward said. The online test is also important because 80 to 85 percent of people who have sleep apnea remain undiagnosed.
To take the Stop Bang self-evaluation test for sleep apnea, visit http://bit.ly/1ejQKhs.