Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea (CSA) occurs when signals from the brain to the muscles responsible for controlling breathing temporarily fail. Unlike obstructive sleep apnea, CSA is associated more with communication to the brain, where OSA is more a mechanical issue. It is much less common than OSA and only 20 percent of sleep apnea cases are CSA.

Symptoms of Central Sleep Apnea

CSA is often caused by conditions that often lead to varying symptoms and types of CSA. The most common symptoms associated with CSA include:

  • Stopping breathing or irregular breathing during sleep
  • Shortness of breath leading to awakenings
  • Excessive daytime drowsiness
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Morning headaches
  • Poor/restless sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mood changes

Conditions that can lead to Central Sleep Apnea

Conditions that are not be directly related to sleep apnea but may be an underlying cause of symptoms include:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Medical conditions that affect the brain stem
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • Certain medications like narcotic painkillers
  • Heart failure

Treatment for Central Sleep Apnea

Existing conditions are always treated first before any other options are considered. Other treatment options include:

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)

A CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, machine increases air pressure in your throat so that your airway doesn’t collapse when you breathing. Treatment involves a CPAP machine, which has three main parts:

  • A mask or other device that fits over your nose or your nose and mouth. Straps keep the mask in place while you’re wearing it.
  • A tube that connects the mask to the machine’s motor.
  • A motor that blows air into the tube.

Automatic positive airway pressure (APAP)

APAP machines deliver pressurized air, via a mask, to keep your airway free of obstructions as you sleep. The air pressure delivered from the machines acts as a splint, keeping your throat from collapsing in on itself so that you can breathe freely through the night without any apnea events.

Adaptive-servo ventilation (ASV)

The adaptive-servo ventilation device monitors breathing and adjusts airflow appropriately through the mask to match how the patient would be normally breathing if awake.


Certain medications, such as acetazolamide or theophylline have been used to stimulate breathing in people with central sleep apnea. Medications may be prescribed by your pulmonary specialist when positive airway pressure therapy fails to be efficient.

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