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Central Sleep Apnea

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

What is Central Sleep Apnea?

This disorder occurs when the brain doesn't send the right signals to start the breathing muscles during sleep, which causes the person to temporarily stop breathing. There is generally no airway blockage are there is with Obstructive Sleep Apnea Hypopnea.

Symptoms include a sleep study test finding that a person has at least 5 episodes of total absence of airflow or reduced airflow per hour during sleep, and that these episodes are not caused by another sleep disorder.

There are 3 subtypes of this disorder including:

  • Idiopathic Central Sleep Apnea - repeated episodes of total absence of airflow or reduced airflow during sleep that are caused variations in breathing, but without any sign of an airway blockage.
  • Cheyne-Stokes Breathing - a pattern of rising and falling breathing that results in at least 5 episodes per hour of total absence of airflow or reduced airflow during sleep. This type typically happens due to heart failure, stroke or kidney failure. People with this type are often older, male and have lower weight than those with Obstructive Sleep Apnea Hypopnea.
  • Central Sleep Apnea resulting from Opioid Use - the breathing problems are because of the use of an opioid medication (including drugs like morphine, heroin, codeine, methadone, and oxycodone).

How common is Central Sleep Apnea?

Exact rates are not known for this disorder, but it is thought to be a rare condition.

What are the risk factors for Central Sleep Apnea?

Risk factors for the Cheyne-Stokes type include heart failure, stroke and kidney failure. The Opioid use type can occur in those that take the medications for long periods of time.

What other disorders or conditions often occur with Central Sleep Apnea?

This disorder frequently occurs in those that take opioids, such as methadone. Obstructive Sleep Apnea Hypopnea can also occur with this condition. Those with the Cheyne-Stokes type usually also have heart failure, stroke or kidney failure.

How is Central Sleep Apnea treated?

Treatments often involve addressing the medical condition that may be causing this disorder, such as heart or kidney failure. A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine that has a mask that fits over your mouth and nose, or just over your nose, and blows air into the throat can be used.

Supplemental oxygen use may also be recommended, as well as medications that can help increase breathing.


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