Central sleep apnea (patient information)

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Central sleep apnea


What are the symptoms?

What are the causes?

Who is at highest risk?


When to seek urgent medical care?

Treatment options

Where to find medical care for Central sleep apnea?


What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Possible complications

Central sleep apnea On the Web

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] ; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Aditya Govindavarjhulla, M.B.B.S. [2]


Central sleep apnea is when you repeatedly stop breathing during sleep because the brain temporarily stops sending signals to the muscles that control breathing.[1]

What are the symptoms of Central sleep apnea?

Persons with central sleep apnea have episodes of disrupted breathing during sleep.

Other symptoms may include:

Other symptoms may occur if the apnea is due to a neurological condition. Symptoms depend on the underlying disease and what parts of the nervous system it has affected, but may include:

What causes Central sleep apnea?

Central sleep apnea often occurs in people who have certain medical conditions. For example, it can develop in persons who have life-threatening problems with the brainstem, which controls breathing.

Conditions that can cause or lead to central sleep apnea include:

A form of central sleep apnea commonly occurs in people with congestive heart failure.

If the apnea is not associated with another disease, it is called idiopathic central sleep apnea.

A condition called Cheyne-Stokes respiration can mimic central sleep apnea. This involves breathing to a variable depth, usually while sleeping.

Who is at highest risk?


Medical history

Physical exam

There are no physical findings specific to central sleep apnea.


Tests will be done to diagnose an underlying medical condition. A sleep study (polysomnogram) can confirm sleep apnea.

Other tests that may be done include:

When to seek urgent medical care?

Central sleep apnea is usually diagnosed in patients who are already severely ill. Physician should be contacted if any of the symptoms of central sleep apnea are noticed.

Treatment options

Oxygen, nasal CPAP, or bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) may be used for some types of central sleep apnea.

Some types of central sleep apnea are treated with drugs that stimulate breathing.

Patients should avoid the use of any sedative medications.

If central sleep apnea is due to heart failure, the goal is to treat the heart failure itself

Where to find medical care for Central sleep apnea?

Directions to Hospitals Treating Central sleep apnea

Prevention of Central sleep apnea

What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

The outlook is usually favorable in those with idiopathic central sleep apnea.

Possible complications

Complications may result from the underlying disease causing the central sleep apnea


  1. "Central sleep apnea: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia".
  2. Silva CP, Lorenzi-Filho G, Marcondes B; et al. (2010). "[Reduction of central sleep apnea in heart failure patients with beta-blockers therapy]". Arq. Bras. Cardiol. 94 (2): 223–9, 239–45, 226–32. PMID 20428620. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)