Can Sleep Apnea cause Seizures

by Sehrish Vulvox ABC

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that affects millions of people around the world. It is characterized by breathing pauses during sleep, which can lead to various health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. In recent years, there has been growing concern about the relationship between sleep apnea and seizures. Can sleep apnea cause seizures?

What is Sleep Apnea?

Before we dive into the relationship between sleep apnea and seizures, let’s first define what sleep apnea is. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open, despite the effort to breathe.

What are Seizures?

Seizures are sudden and uncontrolled electrical disturbances in the brain that can cause changes in behavior, movement, and consciousness. There are many different types of seizures, and they can be caused by various factors, such as epilepsy, head injuries, infections, and metabolic disorders. Seizures can range from mild to severe and can last from a few seconds to several minutes.

How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed and Treated?

Sleep apnea can be diagnosed through a sleep study, which measures various parameters, such as breathing, oxygen levels, and brain activity, during sleep. Treatment options for sleep apnea include lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, avoiding alcohol and sedatives, and sleeping on the side. Additionally, there are various medical treatments, such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, oral appliances, and surgery.

Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a condition where a person’s breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep. While anyone can develop sleep apnea, certain factors increase the risk of developing the condition. Understanding these risk factors is important for identifying and preventing sleep apnea.

  • Obesity: People who are overweight or obese are at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea. Excess weight can put pressure on the airway, causing it to narrow or become blocked during sleep.
  • Age: Sleep apnea can occur at any age, but it is more common in older adults. As we age, our muscle tone decreases, including the muscles that keep the airway open during sleep.
  • Gender: Men are more likely to develop sleep apnea than women. This may be due to differences in airway anatomy, hormone levels, or other factors.
  • Family History: Sleep apnea can run in families, suggesting that there may be a genetic component to the condition.
  • Smoking: Smoking can increase the risk of sleep apnea by damaging the airway and increasing inflammation.
  • Alcohol and Sedative Use: Alcohol and sedatives can relax the muscles in the airway, making it more likely to collapse during sleep.
  • Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, can increase the risk of sleep apnea.

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea:

  • Sleep Study: A sleep study, or polysomnography, is the most common test used to diagnose sleep apnea. This involves spending a night in a sleep lab where various measurements, such as brain activity, heart rate, and breathing patterns, are recorded while you sleep.
  • Home Sleep Test: Some individuals may be able to undergo a home sleep test, which involves wearing a device that measures breathing patterns and oxygen levels while sleeping at home.
  • Physical Exam: A physical exam can help identify any physical factors that may be contributing to sleep apnea, such as enlarged tonsils or a deviated septum.
  • Medical History: A medical history can help identify any underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to sleep apnea, such as obesity or high blood pressure.

Diagnosing Seizures:

  • EEG: An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a test that records the electrical activity of the brain. This can help identify abnormal brain activity that may be causing seizures.
  • MRI: A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan can help identify any structural abnormalities in the brain that may be causing seizures.
  • Medical History: A medical history can help identify any underlying medical conditions or medications that may be contributing to seizures.
  • Blood Tests: Blood tests can help identify any underlying medical conditions or infections that may be causing seizures.


In conclusion, while sleep apnea and seizures are two separate conditions, they can be related in some cases. Sleep apnea can increase the risk of seizures by causing oxygen deprivation to the brain, while seizures can disrupt sleep and exacerbate sleep apnea. It is important to seek medical evaluation if you suspect you or a loved one may be experiencing sleep apnea or seizures.

Diagnosing sleep apnea and seizures can be challenging, but accurate diagnosis is essential for effective treatment and management of these conditions. Identifying and addressing risk factors for sleep apnea, such as obesity, smoking, and alcohol use, can help to prevent or reduce the risk of developing the condition.

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