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A Link Between Sleep Apnea, Obesity, and Buildup of Brain Fluid

Updated on March 24, 2016

My sister-in-law’s sister (we’ll call her Anita), began having bad migraines but she assumed it was due to work and maybe not enough sleep. Anita started taking over the counter pain killers, but unfortunately it didn’t help. The pain increased and the migraines became more consistent. Then, she began having stiffness in her neck. Her family was concerned about the possibility of meningitis and urged her to visit the ER.

We have two large hospitals in our city, and she selected the newer (which boasts of being faster) ER of the two. After examining her, the hospital confirmed she did not have meningitis and released her with some prescription pain medication.

The migraines continued, the stiffness in the neck continued, and then her eyesight began to weaken. Her peripheral vision was blurry and she also began to have dizziness and fatigue. Anita’s mother wears glasses so she assumed the bad eye sight may be just something that she inherited from her mother. She went to an eye doctor for an examination and was fitted for glasses.

But nothing helped, the eye sight continued to worsen and the migraines kept coming. Then one day, when she was making lunch for her kids, an incident happened that she could no longer ignore or try to excuse. Her intention was to pour a can of vegetables in a saucepan, but instead she poured it to the right on the saucepan and onto the stove. Anita was looking right at the saucepan while she was pouring, but missed the entire saucepan instead.

Anita went back the same ER for another examination, which resulted in only more prescription medication. Neither Anita or her family was comfortable with the ER’s suggested, so they went to the ER of the older hospital for a second opinion. This hospital told her she was lucky she didn’t wait longer to be examined because she was on her way to becoming blind.

An examination found fluid building up in her skull. This fluid was putting pressure on her brain which was causing the migraines and eventually lead to the neck stiffness and eyesight problems. The hospital suggested a spinal tap to drain the fluid and medication that would allow her to pass the fluid herself. They advised this may not stop the buildup of the fluid from occurring again, and if not, the second step would be to insert a tube (shunt) permanently inside her brain to allow the fluid to drain normally.

Unfortunately, the spinal tap did drain the fluid but at her follow-up a new collection of fluid was present. Therefore, the surgery was highly recommended and scheduled for the soonest date possible. The surgery was a success but Anita is now having to deal with recovery. A recovery that includes pain medication, unable to play with her children or interact with her fiancé or family members, and unable to work. During her recovery she said something as small as opening her eyes would cause great discomfort.

When discussing her condition with her doctor, Anita was advised the cause is unknown but is something found commonly in obese individuals or individuals with sleep apnea. Anita is not obese but she does snore and there is a possibility that she may have sleep apnea since her father has it as well. However, testing Anita for sleep apnea will have to wait until she is fully recovered.

Although the doctor advised the cause of the buildup of fluid is unknown, he did say it was a common condition among the obese and those diagnosed with sleep apnea. I found a case study here that provides as support to his advisement. For anyone that may fall into these two categories – it’s important that you create a relationship with your doctor for proper monitoring of your health and any complications that may occur. And if you ever feel that your condition is not diagnosed properly or just don’t feel 100% confident with the results of your examination – always be sure to get a second opinion.


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