Researchers have found that fatigue and sleep may need more attention in order to prevent issues like stroke after spinal cord injury.
"People with spinal cord injury have alarming rates of stroke, and we wanted to understand why? We found that the risk of fatigue is nine times greater in individuals with spinal cord injury compared to those without," said study lead Aaron Phillips, assistant professor at University of Calgary in Canada.
Working with colleagues in Canada, Serbia and Croatia, the team determined that fatigue and sleep issues were prevalent in people with spinal cord injury and that sleep-related breathing problems were associated with reduced brain health in this population.
Using a data-set of more than 60,000 people, the researchers first revealed that individuals with spinal cord injury experience fatigue more than people without spinal cord injury.
The researchers also found the incidence of clinically defined sleep apnea was roughly four times greater for individuals with spinal cord injury compared to those without, and then went on to show that fatigue and trouble sleeping are related to the level and severity of the spinal cord injury.
The researchers next conducted sleep and in-depth physiological studies to test whether there were any scientifically measurable differences to sleep after spinal cord injury.
The full-night polysomnography recorded brain waves, oxygen level in participants' blood, as well as their heart rate and breathing.
"People with spinal cord injury were suffering from very disturbed breathing during sleep that was actually preventing them from carrying oxygen to vital organs like their brain," said study researcher Jordan Squair.
"Our study found sleep related disorders are negatively associated with brain health for individuals with spinal cord injury," Squair added.
They found that sleep-related breathing problems in people with spinal cord injury were associated with reduced health of brain blood vessels.
This is important as people with spinal cord injury are three to four times more likely to experience stroke than uninjured individuals.
The study was published in the journal Neurology.