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Central Sleep Apnea – Overview & Facts


Central sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that causes your body to decrease or stop the effort of breathing during sleep. This occurs in an off-and-on cycle. It is a result of a problem in the brain or heart. It is different from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) because the problem is not caused by a blockage of the airway.

The brain and heart normally interact to direct, monitor, and change the amount of air that we breathe. The problem in central sleep apnea syndromes (CSA) is that the brain and heart move an abnormal amount of air into the lungs. CSA syndromes in adults are divided into these five categories:
  1. Primary Central Sleep Apnea — Cause is not known. The breathing pattern consists of the repetitive absence of breathing effort and air flow.
  2. Cheyne-Stokes Breathing Pattern — Cause is heart failure, stroke, and possibly kidney failure. The breathing pattern consists of a rhythmic increase and decrease of the breathing effort and the amount of air flow.
  3. Medical Condition Not Cheyne-Stokes — CSA caused by medical conditions, but without the typical Cheyne-Stokes breathing pattern. It is caused by heart and kidney problems. It may also result from a problem in the base of the brain where breathing is controlled.
  4. High-Altitude Periodic Breathing — Caused by sleeping at altitudes higher than about 15,000 feet. The breathing pattern is similar to the Cheyne-Stokes Breathing Pattern. The difference is that there is no history of heart failure, stroke, or kidney failure. Also, the cycle time is shorter.
  5. Due to Drug or Substance — Caused by the use of drugs, mainly pain medicines in the opioid category. Breathing may stop completely or increase and decrease in a regular pattern. Breathing can also be quite irregular. It can even have elements of obstruction such as the breathing that is seen in OSA.
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