Central sleep apnea is a different type of condition than obstructive sleep apnea. People who have central sleep apnea experience breathing breaks during sleep which can happen repeatedly during sleep. The breathing breaks might indicate that your brain has a problem signaling and it forgets to tell your muscles to breathe. People with central sleep apnea don’t have blocked airways. The main reason they experience these breathing breaks is due to a problem in the connection between the brain and the muscles that control your breath.
This sleep disorder is not as common as OSA and it has been estimated that only 20% of all sleep apnea cases are central sleep apnea.
Central Sleep Apnea Causes
The most common cause for central sleep apnea is underlying health conditions which affect your brainstem, spinal cord, or heart. Such conditions include heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, Cheyne-Stokes breathing, encephalitis, arthritis in the cervical spine, and Parkinson’s disease.
There are also certain medications which can trigger this sleep disorder. In such condition, the sleep disorder is known as drug-induced apnea. Some of the medications that can trigger central sleep apnea are opioid drugs, such as codeine, morphine, and oxycodone.
Nevertheless, if none of these two causes is the reason for your sleep apnea, it’s very likely that you have idiopathic central sleep apnea.
Central Sleep Apnea Symptoms
The most common and most obvious central sleep apnea symptom is the short periods during sleep when breathing stops. The breathing doesn’t have to stop completely but it can be quite shallow. What’s more, many people wake up feeling short of breath due to the lack of oxygen. Over time, this can lead to insomnia.
Other symptoms that might indicate you have this sleep disorder usually occur during the day and show that you have a poor night’s sleep. These include sleepiness, morning headaches, and trouble concentrating and focusing.
If Parkinson’s disease is the reason for your sleep disorder, you might face some additional symptoms, such as changes in speech, trouble swallowing, changes in voice, and generalized weakness.
Central Sleep Apnea Diagnosis
To diagnose this condition, your physician will recommend a home sleep study, which is extremely convenient and non-invasive. The test is performed in the comfort of your home and it measures your oxygen levels, brain activity, breathing pattern, heart rate, and lung function. The results are then reviewed by a sleep specialist and they help determine the underlying cause of your apnea.
Another way to diagnose central sleep apnea is a head or spinal MRI scan which uses radio waves to generate images of your organs. The test may reveal that the sleep disorder is caused by structural abnormalities in your brainstem or spine.
Central Sleep Apnea Treatments
First and foremost, in order to treat central sleep apnea, you should first manage the underlying medical conditions, if you have them. This might means taking some medications to control your conditions. Moreover, this might also require not using opioid medications anymore. Your physician might even prescribe medications such as acetazolamide to stimulate your breathing mechanism.
Effective treatments for central sleep apnea are oxygen supplementation and the regulation of air pressure during sleep. Other treatments for central sleep apnea include:
- Continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) which provides a steady source of pressure in your airways as you sleep;
- Bi-level positive air pressure (BPAP) which adjusts the air pressure to a higher level when you inhale and a lower level when you exhale;
- Adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV)which monitors you breathing while you sleep while a pressurized system regulates the breathing pattern to prevent apnea episodes.
People who have been diagnosed with idiopathic central sleep apnea always experience success from the treatment. However, the success of your treatment for central sleep apnea depends on the exact cause of the condition.