Central sleep apnea disorder in which breathing stops and starts repeatedly during sleep.
Central sleep apnea occurs because the brain does not send the proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. This condition is different from obstructive sleep apnea, in which normal breathing does not occur due to an obstruction of the upper airways.
Central sleep apnea can be caused by other conditions, such as heart failure and strokes. Central sleep apnea can also occur when sleeping at a high altitude.
Treatments for central sleep apnea treat existing conditions, use a device to aid breathing, or use additional oxygen.
Common signs and symptoms of central sleep apnea include the following:
- Observed episodes of pauses in breathing or irregular breathing patterns when sleeping.
- Awakening abruptly with shortness of breath.
- Shortness of breath that calms down when sitting.
- Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
- Chest pain at night
- Difficult to focus
- Humor changes
- Headaches in the morning.
- Less tolerance to exercise
Although snoring indicates a certain degree of airway obstruction, it is also present in cases of central sleep apnea. However, snoring from central sleep apnea is not as noticeable as snoring from obstructive sleep apnea.
When should you see a doctor
Consult a medical professional if you have, or if your partner observes, any signs or symptoms of central sleep apnea, in particular the following:
- Shortness of breath that wakes you up.
- Intermittent pauses in breathing during sleep
- Trouble staying asleep.
- Excessive daytime sleepiness that can cause you to fall asleep at work, watching TV, or even driving
Ask your online doctor UK about any sleep problems that leave you chronically fatigued, sleepy, and irritable. Excessive daytime sleepiness may be due to other disorders, such as not getting enough sleep at night (chronic sleep deprivation), sudden attacks of sleep (narcolepsy), or obstructive sleep apnea.
Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain stops transmitting signals to the breathing muscles.
The cause of central sleep apnea can be found in some diseases that affect the ability of the brain stem (which connects the brain to the spine and controls functions such as pulse and breathing) to control breathing.
The cause is different depending on the type of central sleep apnea you have. The types include the following:
- Cheyne-Stokes breathing. This type of central sleep apnea is generally associated with congestive heart failure or stroke.
Cheyne-Stokes breathing is characterized by a gradual increase and decrease in breathing effort and air flow. During the weakest breathing effort, a complete lack of air flow (central sleep apnea) may occur.
- Apnea caused by medications. Some medications, such as opioids — which include morphine (Ms Contin, Kadian, and others), oxycodone (Roxicodone, Oxycontin, and others), or codeine — can cause your breathing to be irregular, to increase or decrease in regular patterns, or to come to a complete stop at times.
- Periodic high-altitude breathing. There may be a Cheyne-Stokes breathing pattern if you are at a high altitude. Oxygen change at this altitude is the reason for rapid breathing (hyperventilation) alternated with a low respiratory rate.
- Treatment emerging central sleep apnea. Some people with obstructive sleep apnea develop central sleep apnea by using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask to treat sleep apnea. This condition is known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea and is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea.
- Central sleep apnea caused by a medical condition. Several medical conditions, including end-stage kidney disease and stroke, can lead to non-Cheyne-Stokes type central sleep apnea.
- Idiopathic (primary) central sleep apnea. The cause of this rare type of central sleep apnea is unknown.