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Central Sleep Apnea

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What Are the Symptoms of Central Sleep Apnea?

The main symptom of central sleep apnea is temporary stoppages of breathing while asleep. Although snoring is a very strong symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, snoring is usually not found with central sleep apnea.

Symptoms may also include:

  • Being very tired during the day
  • Waking up often during the night
  • Going to the bathroom often during the night
  • Having headaches in the early morning
  • Poor memory and difficulty concentrating
  • Mood problems

How Is Central Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

If you have any of these symptoms of central sleep apnea, or if a family member or bed partner notices that you stop breathing while sleeping, you should talk to your doctor or health care provider.

If your doctor suspects you have central sleep apnea , he is likely to perform a physical exam, take a medical history, and recommend a sleep history. The next step will likely be an overnight sleep study called a polysomnogram. This test is performed in a sleep lab under the direct supervision of a trained technologist. During the test, the following body functions may be monitored:

  • Electrical activity of the brain
  • Eye movements
  • Muscle activity
  • Heart rate
  • Breathing patterns
  • Air flow
  • Blood oxygen levels

After the study is completed, the technologist will tally the number of times that breathing is impaired during sleep and then grade the severity of sleep apnea. In some cases, a multiple sleep latency test is performed on the day after the overnight test to measure how quickly you fall asleep. In this test, patients are given several opportunities to fall asleep during the course of a day when they normally would be awake.

How Is Central Sleep Apnea Treated?

If central sleep apnea is associated with some other condition, such as congestive heart failure, that condition is treated, if possible.

Some of the more conservative treatments for obstructive sleep apnea would likely benefit people with central sleep apnea as well. Some of these conservative treatments include:

  • Losing weight if necessary, and then maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoiding the use of alcohol and sleeping pills, as these items make the airway more likely to collapse during sleep
  • Sleeping on your side if you have apneic events when sleeping on your back, possibly using pillows or other devices to keep you in place
  • Using nasal sprays or breathing strips to keep air flowing if you have sinus problems or nasal congestion
  • Avoiding sleep deprivation
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