Right and left ventricular functional impairment and sleep apnea

Clin Chest Med. 1992 Sep;13(3):459-79.


Obstructive sleep apnea may contribute to the development of pulmonary hypertension and RVF primarily through pulmonary vasoconstriction secondary to hypoxia. Several recent studies indicate, however, that intermittent apnea-related hypoxia is not sufficient to cause sustained pulmonary hypertension. These studies have been consistent in showing that pulmonary hypertension and RVF are almost invariably seen in the presence of diurnal hypoxia. Sustained pulmonary hypertension, therefore, appears to be associated with sustained hypoxia as is the case in COPD. Patients with OSA who have hypoxia while awake are, as a rule, obese and have mild-to-moderate diffuse obstructive airways disease. Thus, most cases of pulmonary hypertension in association with OSA result from a combination of OSA, obesity, and diffuse obstructive airways disease, a so-called overlap syndrome. However, from the therapeutic viewpoint, it is apparent that treatment of OSA by NCPAP or tracheostomy, in such cases, is usually sufficient to reverse pulmonary hypertension and RVF. More recent work has provided strong evidence that OSA can play a role in the pathogenesis of LV heart failure in patients with CHF of otherwise unknown etiology. It is likely that this occurs through a combination of increased LV afterload related to exaggerated negative Pit swings during obstructive apneas, to intermittent hypoxia, and to chronically elevated sympathoadrenal activity. Reversal of OSA by NCPAP in these patients may relieve LV heart failure. These findings add a new dimension to our understanding of the pathophysiologic effects of OSA on the cardiovascular system by demonstrating that the LV is a structure that may suffer functional impairment secondary to the stresses imposed by OSA. Finally, it has now become apparent that CSR in patients with CHF can cause symptoms of a sleep apnea syndrome when associated with intermittent hypoxia and arousals from sleep. Reversal of CSR during sleep by NCPAP can lead to alleviation of these symptoms and possibly to reduced cardiac dyspnea and LV systolic function as well. Taken together, this suggests that much more extensive use of polysomnography may be warranted in the investigation of cardiovascular disease. The reasons are compelling: sleep apnea disorders are common and eminently treatable conditions whose reversal can result in improved right and left heart function and symptomatic improvement in patients with impaired myocardial function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cheyne-Stokes Respiration / complications
  • Cheyne-Stokes Respiration / physiopathology
  • Cheyne-Stokes Respiration / therapy
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / etiology
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / physiopathology
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / complications
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / etiology
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / physiopathology*
  • Sleep, REM
  • Ventricular Function / physiology*
  • Ventricular Function, Left / physiology
  • Ventricular Function, Right / physiology