Understanding The Differences Between Central Sleep Apnea and Obstructive Sleep Apnea

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There are a lot of factors that contribute to a good night’s sleep, and the way we breathe is definitely one of them. Sleep apnea is one of the sleeping disorders that affect our ability to breath during the night, and it’s a lot more serious than most believe.

Despite its commonality — affecting about 22 million Americans — sleep apnea is still not well-understood. Many don’t even realize that there are two different kinds of sleep apnea: central and obstructive.

Each type of sleep apnea is caused by different factors, and without proper diagnosis and treatment, they can lead to a variety of serious health complications. That is why it is so important to understand the differences between central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea.

What Is Central Sleep Apnea?

Central sleep apnea (CSA) is not as common as it’s counterpart, obstructive sleep apnea, but it is just as serious. Central sleep apnea is caused by the brain failing to send signals to the muscles associated with breathing. This causes a patient’s breathing to be interrupted and as a result, the body and brain do not receive a normal amount of oxygen during sleep.

Central sleep apnea may occur as a result of other conditions, including metabolic diseases, trauma, brain tumors, heart failure, or stroke. The symptoms of central sleep apnea are similar to those of obstructive sleep apnea, although patients with central sleep apnea usually do not display the same level of snoring as patients with obstructive sleep apnea.

Risk Factors include:

  • Old age: Unfortunately, simply being middle-aged or older can trigger CSA.

  • Heart disorders: Congestive heart failure elevates the risk for CSA.

  • Narcotic Pain Medications: Long-term use of opioids, such as methadone, increases risk of CSA

  • Stroke: Having a stroke can cause your brain signals to deter, raising the risk of CSA.

What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

As the name suggests, obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) is when a person’s breathing interruptions are caused by blockage of the airway. Typically, the cause of this blockage is the muscles of the throat intermittently relaxing during sleep and constricting the airway. This muscular collapse recurs throughout the night and often causes people to be aroused from their sleep cycle, although not always completely. Obstructive sleep apnea is the more common of the two kinds of sleep apnea conditions.

Some symptoms of sleep apnea occur at night during sleep, and others affect patients during the waking hours. The most distinctive symptom of obstructive sleep apnea is loud snoring.

Risk Factors include:

  • Excess weight: Being overweight make you four time more likely of developing OSAS.

  • Neck circumference: Fatty deposits around the neck can lead to the obstruction of airways.

  • A narrowed airway: This can be genetic. Also can be caused by enlarged tonsils or adenoids.

  • Being male: Men are twice as likely to develop OSAS

  • Older age: People middle-aged and older are more likely to develop OSAS

  • Family history: If your relatives suffer from OSAS your risk is greater.

  • Use of alcohol, sedatives, or tranquilizers: Since tend to relax the muscles in your throat.

  • Smoking: Smokers are three times more likely to develop OSAS. Smoking also leads to inflammation and irritated airways.

  • Nasal Congestion: Either because of your anatomy or allergies, you are more at risk for developing OSAS.

What Is Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome?

While there are only two kinds of sleep apnea syndromes, there is a third that describes when a person suffers from both Central and Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome presents itself like Obstructive Sleep Apnea but also holds characteristics of Central Sleep Apnea, which show that there is a miscommunication between brain signals. Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome is still being researched and much is still being learned.


If your partner or family members complain about your loud snoring, or if you suffer from other sleep apnea symptoms, then you may want to consider undergoing a sleep study. At, Pulmonary Associates of Brandon, we offer sleep studies on-site and use state of the art equipment to diagnose our patients’ sleep disorders. To learn more about the differences between central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea, or to make an appointment, contact us today!