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A to Z: Central Sleep Apnea

May also be called: CSA

Central sleep apnea (AP-nee-uh) is a condition in which someone’s breathing stops and starts repeatedly while the person is asleep.

More to Know

Central sleep apnea occurs when the part of the brain that controls breathing temporarily stops sending signals to the muscles that cause a person to breathe. This makes the person stop breathing until they wake up or their brain starts sending the signals again.

Causes of central sleep apnea can include other medical conditions, certain medicines, high altitude, and treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when something in the upper airway restricts a person’s breathing. In some cases, called idiopathic central sleep apnea, doctors don’t know the cause. Signs of central sleep apnea include restless sleep, headaches in the morning, daytime sleepiness, abrupt awakenings with shortness of breath, irritability, and long-term fatigue.

Doctors will often do sleep studies to diagnose central sleep apnea. In these tests doctors monitor people while they sleep to see if their breathing stops. Treatment for central sleep apnea can involve treating associated medical problems, adjusting someone’s medicines, or breathing aids such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). These types of treatments involve wearing a mask over the nose during sleep.

Keep in Mind

Central sleep apnea is a serious condition that can lead to complications such as severe fatigue and heart problems. Idiopathic central sleep apnea usually responds well to treatment. The outlook for apnea with an underlying cause depends on how well the underlying cause is treated or addressed.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.