Two Types of Sleep Apnea: Obstructive and Central

If you’re at all familiar with sleep disorders, you’ve heard the term OSA, standing for obstructive sleep apnea. In fact, OSA is often used interchangeably with “sleep apnea”. But they’re not the same thing. OSA is only a certain type of sleep apnea, which can be caused by multiple factors. This article will teach you more about the different types and causes of sleep apnea. 

Two Types of Sleep Apnea

There are two main types of sleep apnea. Though they share many symptoms (like fatigue and headaches) and risk factors (like being overweight and male), they have different causes and different treatments. 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is by far the more common type of sleep apnea, accounting for at least 80% of cases. It occurs when the muscles in the throat relax, causing the airway in the back of the throat to narrow or even close completely. This blocks the flow of air, making it difficult or impossible for the sleeper to breathe, which in turn causes a partial awakening and disrupted sleep.

In other words, people with OSA have a “mechanical” problem with the tissue in their mouth and throat. OSA can be treated with a simple CPAP machine, which blows pressurized air through the windpipe, keeping it open and allowing the patient to breathe normally. 

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)

A rarer, more complex version is Central Sleep Apnea, which accounts for less than 20% of cases. This occurs when the brain fails to signal the body to breathe. 

Central sleep apnea is a neurological problem. Patients with this condition are physically able to breathe, except their brain is not telling them to do so. This causes carbon dioxide to build up in the body and oxygen levels to dip. 

Oftentimes (but not always), CSA is associated with other serious medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, kidney failure, or neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease. 

One way to treat CSA is using adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV). This is similar to a CPAP machine, except it measures the patient’s breathing and adjusts pressure levels to his specific breathing patterns. CPAP or Bi-level machines can also be used to treat CSA.  

Diagnosing the Difference Between Obstructive and Central Apnea

The two types of sleep apnea can be difficult to diagnose because their symptoms often overlap.  Both conditions result in feeling very sleepy during the day, excessively loud snoring, accounts by others that they have stopped breathing while asleep, and waking with a dry or sore throat. They might also have difficulties concentrating and may have insomnia. On top of that it is also possible to have OSA and CSA at the same time!  

One thing is clear: if you have the symptoms of either type of sleep apnea, it is very important to be tested for a sleep disorder. Sleep apnea is associated with heart problems, complications with medication and surgery, liver problems, accidents, and other serious health threats. 

Talk to your doctor about having a sleep study. A Home Sleep Test can even be conducted from the comfort of your home. Or, you can contact us at Advanced Sleep Medicine to help set you up with a sleep study appointment. 

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Photo Credit: JK B


  1. Brandon James Reply

    This blocks the flow of air, making it difficult or impossible for the sleeper to breathe, which in turn causes a partial awakening and disrupted sleep.

  2. heardle anime Reply

    Sleep apnea can have many causes, but if it happens regularly, you need to go to the hospital for a closer examination.

  3. io games Reply

    What kind of maintenance can I choose? I am blocked. It’s very dangerous, isn’t it?

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