Central vs. Obstructive Sleep Apnea: What Are The Main Differences?

novembre 25, 2019

Central vs. Obstructive Sleep Apnea: What Are The Main Differences?

If you’re experiencing regular sleep issues, insomnia, or just feel downright exhausted, you may have sleep apnea. Consulting your family doctor and undertaking a sleep study is the first step towards a more restful sleep.

Sleep apnea is extremely common, affecting roughly 5.4 million Canadians. The two types of sleep apnea are obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. It’s important to get properly assessed as the cause and treatment of every case of sleep apnea is unique.

Read on to learn about how to identify if you have sleep apnea, what type of sleep apnea you have, and how to treat it.


Obstructive vs. Central Sleep Apnea

The main difference between central and obstructive sleep apnea is that the former is a cause of brain function while the latter is caused by a physical obstruction. Obstructive sleep apnea is far more common.

The following information may help you determine if you have sleep apnea. However, a consultation with a doctor will be the best path to lead you to a proper diagnosis. This may include your doctor advising you to take a sleep study. This means you would sleep overnight at a facility that can diagnose sleep apnea by monitoring your sleep state, eye movement, muscle activity, heart rate, breathing, airflow, and blood oxygen levels.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

OSA is when your breathing is repeatedly halted during sleep for brief periods as your throat does not stay fully open. This can cause fragmented sleep. It can also lower the levels of oxygen in your blood, due to a lowered oxygen intake. Over time the lack of rest and oxygen depletion can lead to heart disease, hypertension, memory issues, depression or chronic anxiety.

Risk Factors

There are several lifestyles and bodily factors that may increase your risk of developing OSA. Risk factors for OSA outlined by the National Sleep Foundation include:

  • Having a small upper airway (or large tongue, tonsils or uvula)
  • Being overweight
  • Having a recessed chin
  • A small jaw or a large overbite
  • A large neck size (17 inches or greater in a man, or 16 inches or greater in a woman)
  • Smoking and alcohol use
  • Being age 40 or older
  • Ethnicity (African-Americans, Pacific-Islanders and Hispanics).
  • Hereditary Factors

Signs and Symptoms

Some of the most common symptoms of OSA are hard to identify on your own but may be identified by a partner or parent observing your sleep. These include: 

  • Deep and chronic snoring
  • Episodes of gasping or coughing during sleep
  • Observed periods where breathing stops during sleep

Other symptoms are common to other medical conditions and are harder to identify on their own as being caused by OSA. These include:

  • Excessive tiredness
  • Morning headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dry mouth or sore throat in the morning
  • Dramatic mood shifts or irritability
  • Nighttime sweating
  • Decreased sex drive


Treatment Options

The primary treatment for sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP), better known as CPAP therapy. This device gently blows air into your airway during sleep through a mask you attach to your face.

Other treatment options include surgery to correct the underlying problem or an invasive hypoglossal nerve stimulation technique. 

If the cause of your sleep apnea is your body weight, alcohol, or smoking, then a positive lifestyle change may also correct the underlying problem.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)

CSA is caused by a disruption of signals from the brain’s respiratory drive. Simply put, your brain is not able to tell your muscles to breath. Unlike OSA, risk factors for CSA are more related to brain injury, medical issues, or substance abuse issues. It can also result from living at high altitudes.

The signs and symptoms of CSA are the same as those of OSA. Your medical history and a proper sleep study will determine if you suffer from CSA.

Risk Factors

Medical and lifestyle risk factors for CSA include:

  • Heart disorders such as atrial fibrillation or congestive heart failure
  • Stroke, brain tumours or brain injury
  • Residing at high altitudes
  • Opioid use
  • Alcoholism


Treatment Options

For CSA, treatment can include the use of a CPAP machine. However, for those who have CSA and find that CPAP does not work for their issues may benefit from Adaptive Servo-Ventilation (ASV). This is an advanced variation of a CPAP machine that can detect a full stop in breathing and adjust the pressure to trigger a breath.

Obstructive vs. Central Hypopneas

A hypopnea is when air intake during sleep is reduced but not stopped altogether. This can be caused by the same factors as OSA and CSA. Hypopneas are sometimes a precursor to developing sleep apnea but can remain a condition on their own. 

Treatments for central hypopneas are similar to sleep apnea. This includes the use of a CPAP machine.

Knowing The Difference Leads To Better Sleep 

We hope this post has empowered you to talk to your doctor about your obstructive breathing during sleep, as well as help you determine if you have sleep apnea. 

If your doctor prescribes you a CPAP machine, we at CPAPmachines.ca have you covered. Reach out to us and have a chat with our knowledgeable clinicians. They can offer guidance on where to start and answer any questions you may have.

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Other helpful resources:

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