Central Sleep Apnea (CSA): Overview

What is Central Sleep Apnea?

Central sleep apnea (CSA) is a pause in breathing during sleep, usually without snoring or gasping. Everyone experiences central apneas occasionally. However, if it occurs too frequently or for long periods of time, it can cause a decrease in the oxygen levels in the body and disrupt sleep.

What causes CSA?

Central Sleep Apnea occurs when the part of the brain that controls breathing restarts the inhalation and exhalation breathing process after a small delay in time. All people living at high altitude have central apnea normally, and the higher you go, the more apnea is likely. This occurs because altitude stimulates fast breathing to raise oxygen, which blows off carbon dioxide. This signals the brain to stop breathing for a pause, then the cycle returns.

Central apnea can occur in premature babies since the breathing center in the brain is not mature. Neurological disorders can also contribute to CSA. These include brain injuries, brain masses, Chiari malformations and certain medications that suppress the breathing. Narcotics and opiate medications, even at low doses, are well known to cause central apnea.

Helpful resources