Causes and Symptoms of Central Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a medical condition in which your breathing is interrupted while you sleep. You stop breathing repeatedly in what are called apneic events. Obviously, anytime you stop breathing, your life could be in danger, but sleep apnea also increases the risk for stroke, heart attack, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Fortunately, there are effective treatments for this condition, but it helps if you know what type of sleep apnea you have. The three main types are obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea (CSA), and complex sleep apnea, which is a combination of the other two types.

What Is Central Sleep Apnea?

Breathing is disrupted in central sleep apnea (CSA) because the brain neglects to tell the muscles to breathe, not because breathing is difficult, as is the case with obstructive sleep apnea. CSA is often associated with illnesses that affect the lower brainstem, which controls breathing. Infants with central sleep apnea may stop breathing for up to 20 seconds at a time.

What Are The Symptoms?

The main symptom of CSA is temporary breathing stoppages, but unlike the obstructive type, snoring is not associated with central sleep apnea. Here are some of the easy-to-identify symptoms:

  • Feeling lethargic and fatigued all day long after getting 8 or more hours of sleep
  • Waking up frequently during the night
  • Going to the bathroom often during the night
  • Getting early-morning headaches
  • Mood swings and problems
  • Being very forgetful and missing appointments
  • Having difficulty concentrating and focusing on the task at hand

Who Is At Risk?

CSA is most common in overweight men over 40, but anyone can have it, including teenagers and infants. As mentioned, the central type of sleep apnea is often associated with other conditions; to make matters worse, CSA can also occur with obstructive sleep apnea, making it harder to isolate and treat. Other conditions that accompany CSA may include any or all of the following:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Hypothyroid Disease
  • Kidney failure
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS)
  • Brainstem damage from stroke or injury

Central vs. Obstructive

Because central sleep apnea is not caused by a mechanical breathing problem (like OSA) it is more difficult to diagnose; often it cannot be observed until the obstructive problem is treated. Those suffering from CSA don’t even try to breathe, or they only take ineffectual shallow breaths, because their brain isn’t sending the right messages. This lack of oxygen causes the patient to wake up briefly and frequently.

Cheyne-Stokes Breathing Pattern

One very common type of CSA involves no breathing stoppages, but rather shallow breathing that does not bring enough oxygen to the brain. This under-breathing alternates with deep, deep over-breathing and is called Cheyne-Stokes breathing. Experts estimate that the Cheynes-Stokes variety of CSA accounts for 20 percent of all sleep apnea cases.

If you suspect you have central sleep apnea, don’t wait another night. See your doctor, and participate in a sleep study where you can be monitored. Also be sure to check out Cpapman.com, the premiere website for sleep apnea solutions.

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