Obstructive Sleep Apnea Strongly Correlated to White Matter Hyperintensities

A German study found that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) was strongly correlated with white matter hyperintensities (WMH) in the brain, a key indicator of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Treating OSA may limit the formation of WMHs in those individuals presenting OSA without dementia or Alzheimer’s. The study was published October 5, 2021, in JAMA Network Open.

“With OSA treatment options (eg, positive airway pressure therapy) readily available,18 WMHs and associated diseases, including subsequent dementia, might be reduced,” wrote study lead author Helena Zacharias, Ph. D., and her team at University Medicine Greifswald in Germany.

Obstructive sleep apnea, a condition characterized by airway obstruction and the cessation of breathing multiple times during the night, is typically diagnosed via an overnight study in a sleep lab. Primary treatment involves the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices which are well understood and widely available. The use of a CPAP prevents the obstruction of the airway and cessation of breathing, keeping the brain from becoming starved of oxygen (hypoxia). This study shows that preventing hypoxia is just the least of the C-PAP’s benefits.


Zacharias HU, Weihs A, Habes M, et al. Association Between Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Brain White Matter Hyperintensities in a Population-Based Cohort in Germany. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(10):e2128225. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.28225. Published online October 5, 2021, at https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2784763. Accessed October 11, 2021.

Morton, Will. MRI links obstructive sleep apnea and dementia. AuntMinnie.com October 5, 2021, at https://www.auntminnie.com/index.aspx?sec=sup&sub=mri&pag=dis&ItemID=133678. Accessed October 11, 2021.

CPAP preventing more than just hypoxia.