Nocturnal hypoventilation - identifying & treating syndromes

Indian J Med Res. 2010 Feb;131:350-65.


Nocturnal hypoventilation is a common feature of disorders affecting the function of the diaphragm or central respiratory drive mechanisms. The ensuing change in gas exchange is initially confined to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, but over time buffering of the raised carbon dioxide produces a secondary depression of respiratory drive that will further reduce ventilation not only during sleep but eventually during wakefulness as well. Failure to identify and treat nocturnal hypoventilation results in impairments in daytime function, quality of life and premature mortality. While some simple daytime tests of respiratory function can identify at risk individuals, these cannot predict the nature or severity of any sleep disordered breathing present. Nocturnal monitoring of gas exchange with or without full polysomnography is the only way to comprehensively assess this disorder, especially in the early stages of its evolution. Non invasive ventilation used during sleep is the most appropriate approach to reverse the consequences of nocturnal hypoventilation, although continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) may be effective in those individuals where a significant degree of upper airway obstruction is present. When appropriately selected patients use therapy on a regular basis, significant improvements in quality of life, exercise capacity and survival can be achieved, irrespective of the underlying disease process.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carbon Dioxide / chemistry
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure
  • Humans
  • Hypoventilation / diagnosis*
  • Hypoventilation / therapy*
  • Lung Diseases / diagnosis
  • Obesity / complications
  • Polysomnography / methods
  • Quality of Life
  • Respiratory Insufficiency
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / diagnosis
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / therapy
  • Sleep, REM
  • Syndrome
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Carbon Dioxide