Central sleep apnoea—a clinical review

Rexford T. Muza


Central sleep apnoea (CSA) is characterised by recurrent apnoeas during sleep with no associated respiratory effort. It mostly results from withdrawal of the wakefulness drive in sleep leaving ventilation under metabolic control. A detailed physiological understanding of the control of breathing in wakefulness and sleep is essential to the understanding of CSA. It encompasses a diverse group of conditions with differing aetiologies and pathophysiology. Likewise treatment varies according to underlying aetiology. Some of the conditions such as idiopathic (primary) CSA (ICSA) are relatively rare and benign. On the other hand Cheyne-Stokes breathing (CSB) pattern is quite common in patients with heart failure and might be a prognostic indicator of poor outcome. Unfortunately modern medical management of heart failure does not seem to have significantly reduced the prevalence of CSA in this group. Since the adoption of positive airway pressure (PAP) as a common treatment modality of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), complex CSA has been increasingly observed either as treatment emergent or persistent CSA. Depending on the particular condition, various treatment strategies have been tried in the past two decades which have included hypnotic therapy, respiratory stimulants, judicious administration of carbon dioxide, oxygen therapy, PAP and bi-level ventilatory support with a backup rate. In the past decade adaptive servo ventilation (ASV) has been introduced with much promise. Various studies have shown its superiority over other treatment modalities. Ongoing long term studies will hopefully shed more light on its impact on cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Other rare forms are still poorly understood and treatments remain suboptimal.