Central sleep apnea treatment options

What are the main central sleep apnea treatment options – and what can you expect if you’ve been diagnosed (or think you may be diagnosed) with central sleep apnea (CSA)? We conclude our four-part series on central sleep apnea with a look at the most common methods of treating this condition.

Central sleep apnea (CSA) is different (and much less common) than obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Those differences stem from the very distinct causes of both conditions. OSA is caused by physical blockage to your breathing airways. CSA, on the other hand, has neurological causes – think of it as your brain failing to tell your body to breathe consistently throughout the night.

So, given the different nature of these two types of sleep apnea, it makes sense that central sleep apnea treatment options may be considerably different than obstructive sleep apnea treatment options.

Central sleep apnea treatment: The basics

If your sleep apnea is thought to be mild – that is, if your central sleep apnea symptoms aren’t severe, or don’t have much of an effect on your personal life – your physician will most likely start you off with basic treatment options. These are the treatments consistent with both CSA and OSA.

The first step is usually to make behavioral or lifestyle changes, which often include:

  • Weight loss
  • Avoiding tobacco and alcohol
  • Changing your current medical prescriptions
  • Changing your sleep position (e.g., sleeping on your side instead of your back)
  • Using nasal sprays or allergy medicines

The breathing devices that are most commonly used to treat obstructive sleep apnea – such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)automatic positive airway pressure (APAP) or variable positive airway pressure (VPAP) – may be prescribed as central sleep apnea treatment options, as well.

Central sleep apnea treatment: The specifics

Because central sleep apnea is caused by non-physical causes, the options for successful treatment can begin to get more complicated in the event that the above methods don’t yield results.

Often, as we learned last week, central sleep apnea is caused by an underlying condition, such as:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Cheyne-Stokes respiration (CSR)
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Hypothyroid disease
  • Kidney failure
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease)
  • Encephalitis
  • Brain damage

In these cases, your physician will likely prescribe central sleep apnea treatment that focuses on treating those conditions first and foremost – which, in theory, will also resolve your sleep apnea.

“Some types of central sleep apnea are treated with medicines that stimulate breathing,” states the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus website. “Oxygen treatment may help ensure the lungs get enough oxygen while sleeping. If narcotic medicine is causing the apnea, the dosage may need to be lowered or the medicine changed.”1

Finally, because it’s caused by your nervous system and mental processes, central sleep apnea has also been known to resolve itself without treatment – in fact, Medscape states that 20 percent of all central sleep apnea cases resolve themselves spontaneously.2

In the meantime, if you think you have central sleep apnea – or are experiencing any ongoing sleep difficulties – talk to your doctor about sleep apnea and find out if a sleep test, and central sleep apnea treatment options, are in your future.

This blog post contains general information about medical conditions and potential treatments. It is not medical advice. If you have any medical questions, please consult your doctor.

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