What is the difference between obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea?

The most common sleep disorder is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). If you have OSA, the tissue in your throat blocks your airway when your muscles relax during sleep. When this tissue gets in the way, it creates a roadblock because not enough air can travel to your lungs. The air has to squeeze by the blockage, which is heard as snoring.

People with OSA are also prone to nighttime choking or gasping for air when their body sends out a signal that causes them to wake up just enough to restore their muscle tone and breathing. But, when they fall back asleep, those tissues relax once again, causing the same series of events to occur. OSA sufferers can wake up dozens to hundreds of times per night.  However, not everyone who snores has OSA, so it’s important to pay attention to other signs like fatigue, morning headaches and others.

Central sleep apnea (CSA) is far less common but equally as dangerous as OSA. If you suffer from central sleep apnea, your brain is not sending out that “WAKE UP!” signal.  As a result, those with CSA will temporarily stop breathing because their brain repeatedly fails to send that signal to the body to keep breathing. Like OSA, those with CSA can awaken many times a night, often having no memory of these events.

Take a sleep apnea symptom quiz and talk to your doctor about the results if you answer “yes” to two or more of the questions.

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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