Central sleep apnea (CSA) has a similar, but a subtly different clinical picture to obstructive sleep apnea. CSA is due to problems regulating the brain or heart, which can contribute to paused breathing episodes during sleep.
Central sleep apnea causes
Several health factors and conditions regulate respiration; they affect the brain, spinal cord or heart and can contribute to CSA. Among them:
- heart attack;
- heart failure and heart rhythm disorders;
- intracranial and spinal injuries;
- Parkinson’s disease;
- medication (for example, opioids) etc.
CSA also occurs in high altitude conditions and is detected more in men who are sensitive to changes in blood oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. This increased sensitivity may be inherited.
Central sleep apnea symptoms
The most common sign of central sleep apnea is short-time paused breathing. Periodic delays and paused breathing lead to a decrease in blood oxygen saturation and a person continually awakens from sleep. Often this is detected by a partner who notices prolonged respiratory pauses, shallow breathing or restless sleep.
Most CSA sufferers have the following problems:
- disturbed sleep with frequent awakenings;
- difficulty falling asleep;
- daytime sleepiness;
- trouble concentrating and headache;
- respiratory arrest;
- wakens with a feeling of lack of air.
Many suffering CSA are prone to micro-awakenings due to paused breathing during sleep. These can occur hundreds of times a night, contributing to feelings of exhaustion the next day.
Central sleep apnea diagnosis
This serious health condition requires a doctor to prescribe polysomnography. Brainwaves, an electrocardiogram (ECG), breathing, movements of the arms or legs will be recorded during sleep in a hospital. The study will conclude if there are CSA and any severe breathing problems. A head or spinal MRI may be required to reveal structural abnormalities as part of the diagnosis.