Obstructive and Central Sleep Apnea (cont.)
IN THIS ARTICLE
Sleep Apnea Causes
Causes of sleep apnea depend on whether the main problem is central or obstructive.
Central sleep apnea
Central sleep apnea syndromes may be divided into two groups; primary (without an underlying cause) or secondary (as a consequence of another condition). In general, central sleep apnea stems from an abnormal regulatory mechanism in the brain.
Some common causes of central sleep apnea include:
Premature infants may also be at risk for central sleep apnea.
The brain regulates breathing by monitoring levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. If the oxygen level is low or the carbon dioxide level is high, the brain signals the breathing muscles to breathe faster in order to expire more carbon dioxide and inspire more oxygen. On the other hand, if the oxygen level is too high or the carbon dioxide is too low, then the brain slows down breathing to allow for a more normal balance.
In central sleep apnea, this regulatory mechanism is disrupted and the brain's recognition of, or response to, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels is impaired. As breathing stops or slows down, the oxygen level drops significantly lower and the carbon dioxide level increases significantly higher than the levels necessary to trigger normal breathing. This leads to a transient exaggerated over-breathing to compensate for significantly higher levels of carbon dioxide and lower oxygen levels. Subsequently, the over-breathing can result in overshooting the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, initiating another episode of apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea
In obstructive sleep apnea, the problem is not the regulation of breathing by the brain, but rather, it has to do with an obstruction to the flow of air into the lungs. The brain signals the muscles of breathing to take a breath. The muscles attempt to take a breath, but no air can flow due to the obstruction of air flow. Therefore, the oxygen levels fall and carbon dioxide levels rise to a level that signals the brain to wake the body up to take a breath (resulting in gasping for air).
In normal breathing:
This flow of air can be compromised at any of these levels due to a variety of reasons. Some common reasons include:
Some other risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea and obstructed airflow include:
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/25/2014
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