Potential mechanisms connecting asthma, esophageal reflux, and obesity/sleep apnea complex--a hypothetical review

Sleep Med Rev. 2007 Feb;11(1):47-58. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2006.05.001. Epub 2007 Jan 2.


Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and asthma are potentially linked at several levels. The pathophysiology of these two conditions seems to overlap significantly, as airway obstruction, inflammation, obesity, and several other factors are implicated in the development of both diseases. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), cardiovascular complications, obesity itself, and the underlying inflammatory processes are all complex contributory factors that provide hypothetical links. Furthermore, a collateral rise in prevalence of both OSA and asthma has been noticed during the past few years, occurring in association with the emerging epidemic of obesity, a common risk factor for both conditions. OSA and asthma share many other risk factors as well. We propose a hypothetical OSA-asthma relationship that has implications on the diagnosis and management of patients presenting with either condition singly. Clinicians should be aware that OSA might complicate asthma management. Based on this hypothesis, we suggest that the treatment of the individual patient who experiences both asthma and OSA needs to be multidisciplinary and comprehensive. This hypothetical association of asthma and OSA, though described anecdotally, has not been systematically studied. In particular, the influence of continuous positive airway pressure therapy (for sleep apnea) on asthma outcomes (such as quality of life, steroid utilization, emergency room visits) and fatality needs to be studied further.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Airway Obstruction / epidemiology*
  • Asthma / epidemiology*
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / epidemiology*
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / epidemiology
  • Hypertension / physiopathology
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / epidemiology*
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / etiology
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / physiopathology*
  • Ventricular Dysfunction, Left / epidemiology
  • Ventricular Dysfunction, Left / physiopathology