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 — unlike obstructive sleep apnea, in which you can't breathe normally because of upper airway obstruction. Central sleep apnea is less common, accounting for fewer than 5 percent of sleep apnea cases.
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 addressing predisposing 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 may also 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 doctor who specializes in treating sleep disorders.
Because appointments can be brief, and there's often a lot of ground to cover, 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 ahead of time 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 disorder center. There, 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 sleep by polysomnography.
During a polysomnography test, you will be connected to equipment that monitors your heart, lung and brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements, and blood oxygen levels while you sleep. This can help your doctor rule out other conditions — such as periodic limb movements or narcolepsy — that can cause excessive daytime sleepiness but require different treatment.
An evaluation by a heart specialist (cardiologist) or a doctor who specializes in the nervous system (neurologist) may also be necessary to look for causes of central sleep apnea.
Treatments and drugs
Treatments for central sleep apnea may include:
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)
For moderate to severe sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend a common therapy device called a nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. A CPAP machine delivers just enough air ...
Last Updated: 2011-06-16
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