Central sleep apnea
Central sleep apnea
Central sleep apnea is a disorder in which your breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.
Central sleep apnea occurs because your brain doesn't send proper signals to the muscles that control your breathing. This condition is different from obstructive sleep apnea, in which you can't breathe normally because of upper airway obstruction.
Central sleep apnea is less common than obstructive sleep apnea.
Central sleep apnea may occur as a result of other conditions, such as heart failure and stroke. Sleeping at a high altitude also may cause central sleep apnea.
Treatments for central sleep apnea may involve treating existing conditions, using a device to assist breathing or using supplemental oxygen.
Common signs and symptoms of central sleep apnea include:
Although snoring indicates some degree of increased obstruction to airflow, snoring also may be heard in the presence of central sleep apnea. However, snoring may not be as prominent with central sleep apnea as it is with obstructive sleep apnea.
When to see a doctor
Ask your doctor about any sleep problem that leaves you chronically fatigued, sleepy and irritable. Excessive daytime drowsiness (hypersomnia) may be due to other disorders, such as narcolepsy or obstructive sleep apnea.
Central sleep apnea occurs when your brain fails to transmit signals to your breathing muscles.
Central sleep apnea can be caused by a number of conditions that affect the ability of your brainstem — which links your brain to your spinal cord and controls many functions such as heart rate and breathing — to control your breathing. The cause varies with the type of central sleep apnea you have. Types include:
Certain factors put you at increased risk of central sleep apnea:
Central sleep apnea is a serious medical condition. Some complications include:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, you may then be referred to a sleep specialist.
Because appointments can be brief and there's often a lot to talk about, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For central sleep apnea, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor may make an evaluation based on your signs and symptoms or may refer you to a sleep specialist in a sleep disorder center.
A sleep specialist can help you decide on your need for further evaluation. Such an evaluation often involves overnight monitoring of your breathing and other body functions during a sleep study called polysomnography.
During polysomnography, you're connected to equipment that monitors your heart, lung and brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements, and blood oxygen levels while you sleep. You may have a full-night or split-night sleep study.
In a split-night sleep study, you'll be monitored during the first half of the night. If you're diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, staff may wake you and give you continuous positive airway pressure for the second half of the night.
Polysomnography can help your doctor diagnose central sleep apnea. It also can help your doctor rule out other sleep disorders, such as periodic limb movements of sleep or narcolepsy, which can cause excessive daytime sleepiness but require different treatment.
Doctors trained in nervous system diseases (neurologists), heart diseases (cardiologists) and others may be involved in evaluating your condition. Doctors may order imaging of your head or heart.
Treatments and drugs
Treatments for central sleep apnea may include:
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)
To eliminate snoring and prevent sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend a device called a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. A CPAP machine delivers just enough air pressure to a ...
Last Updated: 2013-06-28
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