Sleep Apnea

What is Central Sleep Apnea?

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what is central sleep apnea

Central sleep apnea is a specific kind about sleep apnea that causes you to stop breathing while you are asleep.

It is one of the three most common forms about sleep apnea. The other two are general sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea.

With central sleep apnea, the reasons why your breathing becomes interrupted are very different than the other types – there isn’t a physical reason you stop breathing, it comes from your brain not reminding your body to breath. In some instances, you can stop breathing for up to 20 seconds.

What causes it?

There are several different causes for central sleep apnea, although the causes may not be readily apparent, nor does central sleep apnea always occur in people with these conditions. The main causes are:

  • Injury to the brain stem
  • Stroke
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Encephalitis
  • ALS
  • Kidney failure
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Parkinson’s
  • Neurological disease or disorder
  • Illness or infection that affects the brain stem
  • Other factors

The last cause makes it difficult to truly determine who is at risk as the signal for breathing can be interrupted for many reasons in the body. Infants, who may show no signs of injury, disease or disorder, can be affected by central sleep apnea.

Who is at risk for central sleep apnea?

While anyone can get central sleep apnea, it is mostly associated with three risk factors.

  1. Being male
  2. Being over 40
  3. Being overweight

These risk factors are not a guarantee that the condition will develop, but they will increase the risk of this type of apnea occurring if they are present all together.

What symptoms are associated with central sleep apnea?

Unlike other types of apnea, the symptom of snoring is not associated with central sleep apnea.

The main symptom is the interruption of breathing while sleeping, which is hard to determine because the person is often not aware that they have stopped breathing or that their having stopped breathing is the cause of their waking up at night.

There are symptoms that appear elsewhere in your life that can help to determine the cause as being central sleep apnea.

If you are tired more than usual during the day, wake up frequently to urinate, wake up frequently during the night, have difficulties focusing or concentrating and are experiencing an increase in mood irregularity – you may have central sleep apnea.

If you know that any one of the risk factors is present, or that you have any of the conditions that would make your predisposed to central sleep apnea you will want to mention it to your doctor.

Very often the symptoms of central sleep apnea can be misdiagnosed as depression or a reaction to stress.

How do they test for central sleep apnea?

There are three stages to identifying central sleep apnea that your clinician will use to test for the condition.

The first is to take a full medical history and perform a physical exam along with blood tests to make sure that the issue is not an inherited condition, or the result of an underlying medical condition.

If your physician suspects apnea you will then have to spend one night in a sleep lab so they can measure certain activities while you are sleeping.

They will be looking for how many times, and in what pattern, you stop and start breathing, associated eye movements and more.

After a night of sleep in the lab you stay for another day to do something called the sleep latency test.

During this test the doctors create opportunities during the day, when you should be wide awake; to see how fast you fall asleep. All the results are then put together to confirm the diagnosis of central sleep apnea.

How can central sleep apnea affect your life?

Central sleep apnea can have a major impact on your life. The damaging effects of sleep deprivation are not something to be ignored.

Sleep deprivation does more than just make you tired during the day and have a hard time focusing; it can have serious health consequence.

Sleep deprivation has been linked to an increase of risk for everything from diabetes to high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, strokes and certain types of cancers.

Sleep is when the body is allowed to restore itself to help support the immune system to help combat various illnesses and disorders.

If you are chronically sleep deprived you will also have an increased risk of accidents, depression and experience problems with focus, memory and concentration.

Very often, people with central sleep apnea will also experience difficulties in their relationships and/or work performance.

What are the treatments for central sleep apnea?

There are several treatment approaches for those with central sleep apnea, most of which involve reducing the identifying factors (such as being overweight) and working to reduce their influence.

Patients are told to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, avoid sleeping pills and alcohol, and to create a schedule that promotes good sleep hygiene.

Sleep hygiene is the process and events surrounding how you prepare for sleep. It can also be helpful to lie on your side, rather than back, when sleeping.

An assisted breathing machine, such as a CPAP machine, is not commonly prescribed although it may be helpful for some people.

How can you reduce your risk for central sleep apnea?

If you want to reduce your risk for central sleep apnea the best thing you can do is to adopt a lifestyle of healthy living.

This means maintaining a regular schedule, creating a healthy routine for sleep hygiene, avoiding alcohol and sedatives, avoiding stimulants (such as caffeine) in the evening. You also need to maintain a healthy weight.

This will also help to reduce the symptoms of the chronic conditions that are associated with central sleep apnea as well.

Central sleep apnea can be managed easily, but it requires that you take a proactive role in pursuing the changes that will reduce the risk of incidence.

It is important that you be tested and diagnosed as having this kind of apnea to rule out other issues.

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