All About Central Sleep Apnea in Los Angeles, CA

Somewhere around 22 million Americans have sleep apnea, according to an estimate by the American Sleep Apnea Association. Sleep apnea is a disruption in breathing that can affect sleep patterns and present serious health risks. Affecting roughly one out of every 15 adults, obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is the most common form of this condition. But there’s another form of sleep apnea known as central sleep apnea, or CSA, that may be related to something going on in your spinal canal. Here’s what you need to know about this other form of sleep apnea and what can be done about it when there’s a spine-related cause.

What Is Central Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by throat muscles that relax too much when you breathe while sleeping. With central sleep apnea, breathing disruptions occur because of a disconnect between nerve signals from the brain and the muscles that control breathing. In some cases, the nerve signal disruption is caused by an issue in either the brain stem or the spinal cord that links to the brain stem.

What’s the Spine-Related Cause?

Central sleep apnea is a rare condition, which is why it can be overlooked as a possible cause of sleep interruptions and irregular breathing patterns. When there’s a spine-related connection, one of the most common sources is a herniated disc. Whether or not nerve pathways that regulate breathing are affected by a herniated spinal disc will depend on several factors, including: 

  • The location of the damaged disc
    • How far it has shifted out of place
    • The extent of the nerve irritation

    It’s also possible for central sleep apnea to develop as a result of a spine-related procedure, although this is rare. One way spine surgery can affect nerves that control breathing is with a procedure that involves the placement of special hardware within the spine, such as what happens during fusion surgery. This type of nerve damage may also occur with other procedures involving the spine. Nerves that control subconscious breathing may also be affected by a spinal cord injury. For instance, this could happen as a result of a car accident or another type of sudden, forceful impact.

How Is Central Sleep Apnea Treated?

Treatment for sleep apnea related to something in your spine will depend on what that “something” is. If it’s a herniated spinal disc, treatment may involve:

• Nonsurgical decompression to ease nerve pressure
• Therapeutic stretches or exercises
• Surgery to relieve nerve pressure that may involve fusion surgery or disc replacement

The one thing you don’t want to do with central sleep apnea or anything that’s affecting your sleep quality is put off seeing your doctor to get an official diagnosis. If a spine-related source is suspected, you may be referred to a Santa Monica spine surgeon. When a related spinal disc problem is discovered and resolved, you may soon find yourself once again getting sufficient rest, which is also something that’s good for your spine.

In some cases, minimally invasive surgery is required to treat spine issues that cause sleep apnea. At The Spine Institute, we specialize in a wide array of procedures, from traditional fusion to vertebroplasty surgery. Santa Monica patients who are seeking relief from central sleep apnea or other spine-related issues should call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an appointment.

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