Condition 101 About Central Sleep Apnea

What is the definition of Central Sleep Apnea?

Central sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing stops over and over during sleep.

What are the alternative names for Central Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea - central; Obesity - central sleep apnea; Cheyne-Stokes - central sleep apnea; Heart failure - central sleep apnea

What are the causes for Central Sleep Apnea?

Central sleep apnea results when the brain temporarily stops sending signals to the muscles that control breathing.

The condition often occurs in people who have certain medical problems. For example, it can develop in someone who has a problem with an area of the brain called the brainstem, which controls breathing.

Conditions that can cause or lead to central sleep apnea include:

  • Problems that affect the brainstem, including brain infection, stroke, or conditions of the cervical spine (neck)
  • Severe obesity
  • Certain medicines, such as narcotic painkillers

If the apnea is not associated with another disease, it is called idiopathic central sleep apnea.

A condition called Cheyne-Stokes respiration can affect people with severe heart failure and can be associated with central sleep apnea. The breathing pattern involves alternating deep and heavy breathing with shallow, or even not breathing, usually while sleeping.

Central sleep apnea is not the same as obstructive sleep apnea. With obstructive sleep apnea, breathing stops and starts because the airway is narrowed or blocked. But a person can have both conditions, such as with a medical problem called obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

What are the symptoms for Central Sleep Apnea?

People with central sleep apnea have episodes of disrupted breathing during sleep.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Morning headaches
  • Restless sleep

Other symptoms may occur if the apnea is due to a problem with the nervous system. Symptoms depend on the parts of the nervous system that are affected, and may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Swallowing problems
  • Voice changes
  • Weakness or numbness throughout the body

What are the current treatments for Central Sleep Apnea?

Treating the condition that is causing central sleep apnea can help manage symptoms. For example, if central sleep apnea is due to heart failure, the goal is to treat the heart failure itself.

Devices used during sleep to aid breathing may be recommended. These include nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) or adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV). Some types of central sleep apnea are treated with medicines that stimulate breathing.

Oxygen treatment may help ensure the lungs get enough oxygen while sleeping.

If narcotic medicine is causing the apnea, the dosage may need to be lowered or the medicine changed.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Central Sleep Apnea?

How well you do depends on the medical condition causing central sleep apnea.

The outlook is usually favorable for people with idiopathic central sleep apnea.

What are the possible complications for Central Sleep Apnea?

Complications may result from the underlying disease causing the central sleep apnea.

When should I contact a medical professional for Central Sleep Apnea?

Call your provider if you have symptoms of sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea is usually diagnosed in people who are already severely ill.

REFERENCES

Redline S. Sleep-disordered breathing and cardiac disease. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 87.

Ryan CM, Bradley TD. Central sleep apnea. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 89.

Zinchuk AV, Thomas RJ. Central sleep apnea: diagnosis and management. In: Kryger M, Roth T, Dement WC, eds. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 110.

Latest Advances On Central Sleep Apnea

Clinical Trials For Central Sleep Apnea

Clinical Trial
  • Status: Recruiting
  • Phase: N/A
  • Intervention Type: Device
  • Participants: 200
  • Start Date: January 14, 2021
Diagnostic Validation of the DreamKit Device Against Polysomnography