Friday, April 18, 2008

Get Less Headaches – Raise Your Blood Pressure

A recent study published in the journal Neurology showed that the higher your blood pressure, the less likely you're going to have chronic daily headaches symptoms. This is an interesting finding since the authors conclude that headaches may result from stiffening of the arteries as one develops high blood pressure. In the end, the authors' weren't sure why this happened but were perplexed as to its paradoxical implications.

This finding is not surprising at all if looked at from the sleep-breathing paradigm which I describe in my forthcoming book, Sleep, Interrupted. People with upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) are typically young, thin, don't snore, and are chronically tired, no matter how long they sleep. They also tend to have cold hands or feet, and have normal or low blood pressure with bouts of lightheadedness or dizziness when standing up suddenly. These people also tend to suffer from various headache syndromes, like tension, migraine, or TMJ associated headaches. They'll also have frequent sinus pain and pressure, usually misdiagnosed as a sinus infection. Typically, one or both parents will snore heavily, who frequently have high blood pressure, depression, or heart disease.

Later on in life, about 20-40 years later, UARS patients are more likely to be overweight, with no more cold extremities, dizziness or light-headedness, but now snore and have high blood pressure. At this stage, they are likely to have the classic features of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

We know that OSA is a major risk factor for high blood pressure, but patients with high blood pressure are almost never screened for OSA. Instead, they are treated for one of the signs of OSA, which is hypertension. One of the major root causes of high blood pressure is almost never addressed. There are even scientific thinkers that propose that OSA is the main reason for most cases of undiagnosed high blood pressure.

The study authors also commented on other studies that show that increasing blood pressure is linked to lower amounts of chronic pain throughout the body. In sleep research, sleep apnea patients are thought to have diminished autonomic nervous system sensitivity, thus the longer breathing pauses.

Unfortunately, in most cases, we wait for the end result of a disease process (high blood pressure) before starting treatment, rather than preventing it from happening in the first place. In the latter scenario, helping people breathe better at night so that they can sleep better can not only alleviate much of the headaches when they're young, but it can prevent progression into high blood pressure and other cardiovascular complications later in life.

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