Is MRI Necessary in the Evaluation of Pediatric Central Sleep Apnea?

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(1) To determine the prevalence of central nervous system (CNS) pathology identified on head magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans in children with central sleep apnea (CSA); (2) to assess the yield of MRI in evaluation of CSA; and (3) to identify factors that predict CNS pathology in children with CSA.

Study Design

Case series with chart review.


Tertiary children’s hospital.

Subjects and Methods

A chart review was conducted over 12 years. Patients 6 months to 18 years of age who underwent head MRI for evaluation of CSA were included. CSA was diagnosed on polysomnogram as central apnea index >1.


Forty children were included in the CSA group. Twenty-two patients were male, and the mean age was 60 ± 41.5 months. The mean central apnea index was 3.8 ± 1.9, while the mean obstructive apnea hypopnea index was 3.4 (interquartile range, 0.7-3.8). Eighteen percent (7 of 40) of children with CSA had evidence of CNS pathology on MRI, with the most common finding (n = 3) being arachnoid cyst. Children with CSA who had gastroesophageal reflux disease or abnormal neurologic examinations were more likely to have CNS pathology. Other factors, such as prematurity, did not improve the yield of MRI in children with CSA.


While routine evaluation of children with elevated central apnea index by MRI is not indicated, providers should consider neuroimaging in children with CSA and abnormal neurologic examination findings or gastroesophageal reflux disease. Further research is necessary to identify other tests with improved diagnostic yield for evaluation of pediatric CSA.

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