Central Sleep Apnea

What is Central Sleep Apnea?

Central sleep apnea is a condition characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep due to insufficient stimulation from the brain. It is a rare form of sleep apnea.

Why Does Central Sleep Apnea Occur?

Central sleep apnea occurs when the muscles used for breathing fail to receive appropriate signals from the brain. This can occur when the brainstem, the structure that connects the brain to the spinal cord, is affected. The brainstem controls functions such as heart rate and breathing. Central sleep apnea may be associated with:

  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Certain medications
  • High altitudes
  • Use of CPAP machine

What are the Symptoms Associated with Central Sleep Apnea?

Besides pauses in breathing during sleep, one may experience:

  • Abnormal breathing patterns
  • Multiple awakenings due to shortness of breath
  • Difficulty falling asleep at night (insomnia)
  • Day time sleepiness
  • Morning headaches
  • Mood changes
  • Difficulty concentrating

What if Central Sleep Apnea Remains Untreated?

Untreated central sleep apnea can lead to:

  • Fatigue
  • Heart disease due to low blood oxygen levels

How is Central Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

Your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history and will order a sleep study, also called polysomnography. During this study, breathing and other parameters are evaluated during sleep. It usually requires an overnight evaluation. The results help your doctor differentiate central sleep apnea from other sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, narcolepsy and periodic limb movement disorder. You will also receive a neurological and cardiological evaluation to identify possible causes.

How is Central Sleep Apnea Treated?

To treat central sleep apnea, your doctor may:

  • Treat the underlying causes such as heart failure or stroke
  • Reduce or change medications that may be responsible
  • Order continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV) or bilateral positive airway pressure (BPAP) techniques, which involve wearing a mask over your nose and receiving pressurized air to keep your airway open and prevent pauses in breathing.
  • Order medications that stimulate breathing
  • Recommend supplemental oxygen through devices that deliver oxygen to your lungs while you are asleep