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Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea is a condition that results in moments when there is no effort to breath during sleep. This type of sleep apnea is rare and far less common than obstructive sleep apnea, which is characterized by an effort to breathe and no ventilation occurs due to a blockage of the airway.

Causes of Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea occurs when there is a disruption in the signal coming from the brain that tells us to take a breath. There are a number of things that can cause this break down of communication between the brain and the respiratory muscles.

  • Damage to the Respiratory Drive Center - Sometimes the respiratory drive center in the brain stem can become damaged due to stroke, encephalopathy, or a host of other reasons.
  • Failure of Normal Respiratory Triggers - A good example of "trigger failure" is if the body fails to respond to an increased level of carbon dioxide in the blood.  Normally, an increased level of carbon dioxide should trigger the brain to tell us to breath faster and/or deeper.
  • Reflexes - Certain reflexes can briefly prevent us from being able to inhale.  If you've ever been drinking a glass of water and had it go down the wrong pipe or if you've ever had the "wind knocked out of you", then you have probably experienced a reflex reaction that results in a moment of not being able to take a breath in.

Treatment for Central Sleep Apnea

As with any condition, treatment for central sleep apnea will vary for each person. Treatment will depend greatly on the underlying cause. However, it should be noted that mechanical ventilation will be the only treatment option for many people. Other common treatments for central sleep apnea may include oxygen, CPAP (mostly used with obstructive sleep apnea), and certain medications (again, depending on the underlying cause).

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