Sleep Apnea Headaches are fairly classic in their presentation. Morning headaches for someone with sleep apnea usually indicate the condition is at least moderate if not severe. These headaches result from significant changes within the bloodstream as a result of airway obstruction, and usually mild sleep apnea does not cause this.
When an individual suffers from moderate to severe Sleep Apnea Syndrome, the apneas and other respiratory difficulties that occur during sleep cause changes in their oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. If you block the airway and keep the lungs from moving air in and out, two things happen. First, carbon dioxide trapped in the lungs cannot get out, and it increases its level within the bloodstream. The second occurrence is that oxygen cannot get in, and its level drops. The cause of morning headaches, however, is the rise in carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide as it rises causes the blood vessels in and around the head to dilate. This dilation results in a migraine-like headache that is throbbing and irritating. There are some important differences between this headache and migraines though.
Sleep apnea headaches are usually on both sides of the head rather than just one side. Also sleep apnea headaches usually resolve within thirty minutes of awakening. This occurs because once you are awake, the lungs can move air in and out, and the carbon dioxide level returns to normal. The sleep apnea headache then quickly resolves after this happens. Migraines on the other hand usually last for hours if not days.
In order for carbon dioxide to increase during Sleep Apnea Syndrome, the degree of obstruction usually has to be significant. For this reason, morning headaches are more likely to occur with increasingly severe sleep apnea patients. However, if patients already have other heart and lung conditions, lesser degrees of sleep apnea may cause this.
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