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Alternative NamesSleep apnea - central
Definition Return to top
Central sleep apnea is when you repeatedly stop breathing during sleep because the brain temporarily stops sending signals to the muscles that control breathing.
Causes Return to top
Central sleep apnea often occurs in people who are seriously ill. For example, it can develop in persons who have life-threatening problems with the brainstem. The brainstem controls breathing. As a result, any disease or injury affecting this area may result in problems with normal breathing during sleep or when awake.
Conditions that can cause central sleep apnea include:
One form of central sleep apnea commonly occurs in people with congestive heart failure. Idiopathic central sleep apnea refers to apnea that is not associated with another disease.
Central sleep apnea is not the same as obstructive sleep apnea, which is due to a blockage in the airway.
Symptoms Return to top
Persons with central sleep apnea have episodes of stopped breathing during sleep.
Other symptoms may include:
Other symptoms may occur if the apnea is due to a neurological condition. Symptoms depend on the underlying disease and what parts of the nervous system it has affected, but may include:
Exams and Tests Return to top
The health care provider will perform a physical exam. Tests will be done to diagnose an underlying medical condition. A sleep study (polysomnogram) can confirm sleep apnea.
Other tests that may be done include:
Treatment Return to top
Oxygen, nasal CPAP, or bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) may be used for some types of central sleep apnea.
Some types of central sleep apnea are treated with drugs that stimulate breathing.
Patients should avoid the use of any sedative medications.
If central sleep apnea is due to heart failure, the goal is to treat the heart failure itself. See: Heart failure
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
For idiopathic apnea, the outlook is usually favorable. In congestive heart failure, an aggressive treatment of the heart may improve the outlook. If the cause is a brainstem injury, the outlook tends to be worse.
Possible Complications Return to top
Complications may result from the underlying disease causing the central sleep apnea.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea is usually diagnosed in patients who are already severely ill.
References Return to top
Eckert DJ, Jordan AS, Merchia P, Malhotra A. Central sleep apnea: Pathophysiology and treatment. Chest. 2007 Feb;131(2):595-607.Update Date: 9/11/2008 Updated by: Allen J. Blaivas, DO, Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, Department of Veteran Affairs, VA New Jersey Health Care System, East Orange , NJ . Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.