Central Sleep Apnea

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition in which you stop breathing while asleep. With sleep apnea, your breathing while you are asleep is interrupted by repeated pauses known as apneic events. The types of sleep apnea include: obstructive sleep apnea, which is the most common form of sleep apnea; central sleep apnea; and mixed (or complex) sleep apnea, which combines the two other types.

Sleep apnea can cause serious health problems. It can increase the risk for stroke, obesity, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, and high blood pressure. It may also increase the risk for accidents while working or driving, as some people with sleep apnea may fall asleep during those activities.

What Is Central Sleep Apnea?

In central sleep apnea, breathing is disrupted regularly during sleep because of the way the brain functions. It is not that you cannot breathe (which is true in obstructive sleep apnea); rather, you do not try to breathe at all. The brain does not tell your muscles to breathe. This type of sleep apnea is usually associated with serious illness, especially an illness in which the lower brainstem -- which controls breathing -- is affected. In infants, central sleep apnea produces pauses in breathing that can last 20 seconds.

Who Gets Central Sleep Apnea?

In general, the main risk factors for sleep apnea are male gender, being overweight, and being over 40 years of age. However, anyone can have any of the types of sleep apnea.

Central sleep apnea is often associated with other conditions. One form of central sleep apnea, however, has no known cause and is not associated with any other disease. In addition, central sleep apnea can occur with obstructive sleep apnea, or it can occur alone.

Conditions that may be associated with central sleep apnea include the following: