How Is Central Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

Central sleep apnea is normally diagnosed by undergoing a sleep study called polysomnography.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) is a serious disorder that requires proper diagnosis and treatment in order to avoid potential complications from occurring. Diagnosing CSA can be a difficult process as the symptoms may not always be obvious or present at all.

I am Aaron, a sleep expert. In this article, we will explore the different ways that CSA is diagnosed and the tests involved. We’ll also discuss the importance of an accurate diagnosis and how it can help you receive the best possible treatment for your condition.

What is Central Sleep Apnea?

To better understand how central sleep apnea is diagnosed, we must identify what it is. Unlike, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), where a person suffers from their airway being blocked while sleeping, CSA is caused by the brain. Central sleep apnea is a disorder that involves breathing interruptions during sleep. CSA occurs when the brain does not send the necessary signals to breathe, causing many pauses in your breathing throughout the night.

What are the symptoms of Central Sleep Apnea?

CSA symptoms are similar to OSA. They are:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Loud snoring and choking or gasping noises while sleeping
  • Loudly breathing through your mouth during sleep
  • Lapses/Pauses in breathing
  • Waking up feeling out of breath
  • Waking with Dry Mouth
  • Waking with Sore Throat
  • Waking with a headache
  • Waking up often (Insomnia)

How is Central Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

The most common method of diagnosing CSA is an overnight sleep apnea test, also known as a polysomnography. This test records brain waves, heart rate, blood oxygen levels and breathing patterns while the patient sleeps in a lab setting. The results allow doctors to monitor any changes in breathing throughout the night and determine whether or not it is caused by CSA. Other tests such as MRI scans and chest X-rays may also be used to rule out other potential causes of apnea while looking for signs of CSA.

You will either have a all-night or split-night study. Depending on the patient and/or doctor, they may be able to diagnose you early in the night and apply Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) halfway into the study to test the results.

Polysomnography not only can be used to diagnose central sleep apnea, but also rule out other sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or narcolepsy, which all can cause different symptoms but require different treatments.

How is Central Sleep Apnea Treated?

The most common form of treatment for central sleep apnea is CPAP. This involves wearing a mask over the nose or mouth while sleeping. It delivers a stream of pressurized air that keeps the airways open throughout the night. CPAP has been found to be effective in reducing pauses in breathing during sleep and improving daytime alertness and energy levels. The key to successful treatment is to use the device consistently.

Though, there could be other reasons why central sleep apnea is occurring and these would be treated differently. For example, heart issues may need treated with medications or you may be on medications like opioids that are causing side effects.

There is also a newer treatment that requires an implant to help your brain send signals for breathing. The transvenous phrenic nerve stimulation procedure is minimally invasive and does not require open surgery. It is placed in the upper chest area. It typically takes about four hours to complete and requires general anesthesia.

After the procedure, patients are monitored for a few days in an intensive care unit or hospital stay until they have regained their ability to breathe independently. The majority of patients who undergo this type of surgery experience significant improvement in their breathing function within six months after surgery.


Central Sleep Apnea is a serious sleep disorder that can have devastating consequences on a person’s health and well-being. The good news is, with early diagnosis and treatment, people with CSA can find relief from their symptoms and improve their quality of life. It is important to recognize the signs of CSA and seek professional medical help if you are experiencing any of them. Working together with your doctor, you can develop an individualized treatment plan that works best for you.