Sleep apnea is a condition that produces the periodic cessation of airflow through the respiratory tract. The absence of air flow can last any where from 30 seconds to several minutes. When this disorder reaches a clinically significant state, it frequently recurs, sometimes over 15 times per hour. It can occur due to decreased neuromuscular outflow from the brain, central sleep apnea, or from mechanical obstruction of the airway, obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a common disorder, affecting about 2% of middle aged women and 4% of middle aged men. It is a frequent cause of daytime sleepiness. Central sleep apnea is less associated with hypertension and obesity than is obstructive sleep apnea.
Causes of Central Sleep Apnea
The cause of central sleep apnea is a decrease in the central ventilatory drive of the brainstem. Inadequate neuromuscular stimulation leads to loss of tone of the muscles of the pharynx or airway. The exact explanation as to why the brainstem allows this condition to occur is not clearly worked out. Exposure to high altitude can occasionally lead to a form of this disorder. Transient metabolic abnormalities can produce inhibition of central respiratory drive. Upper airway irritation, such as may occur in esophageal reflux, may contribute to the problem.
Signs and Symptoms of Central Sleep Apnea
The symptoms associated with sleep apnea are similar irrespective as to whether the underlying cause is the central nervous system of obstructive sleep apnea. Sleeping poorly and daytime fatigue or sleepiness is common. Morning headaches may develop. Recurrent awakening during sleep may occur. Bouts of shortness of breath may develop. Occasionally, swelling of the ankles may develop in association with this disorder due to right heart failure.
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Medical Content Last Updated on 07/12/2008
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