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Central sleep apnoea

What is sleep apnoea?

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

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

What is central sleep apnoea?

In central sleep apnoea, 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 apnoea); rather, you do not try to breathe at all. The brain does not tell your muscles to breathe. This type of sleep apnoea is usually associated with serious illness, especially an illness in which the lower brainstem, which controls breathing, is affected. In infants, central sleep apnoea produces pauses in breathing that can last 20 seconds.

Who gets central sleep apnoea?

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

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

  • Neurological diseases, such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease)
  • Damage to the brainstem caused by encephalitis, stroke, injury, or other factors
  • Complications of cervical spine surgery
  • Radiation to the cervical spine area
  • Damage to the cervical spine or base of the skull caused by severe arthritis, other types of degenerative bone disorders, or some other type of injury
  • Primary hyperventilation syndrome
  • Congestive heart failure

What are the symptoms of central sleep apnoea?

The main symptom of central sleep apnoea is temporary stoppages of breathing while sleeping. While snoring is a very strong symptom of obstructive sleep apnoea, snoring may not always be found with central sleep apnoea.

Symptoms may also include:

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


How is central sleep apnoea diagnosed?

If you have some of these symptoms, or if a family member or bed partner notices that you stop breathing while sleeping, you should talk to your doctor about the possibility of sleep apnoea.

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