Obesity hypoventilation syndrome: mechanisms and management

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2011 Feb 1;183(3):292-8. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201008-1280CI. Epub 2010 Oct 29.


Obesity hypoventilation syndrome describes the association between obesity and the development of chronic daytime alveolar hypoventilation. This syndrome arises from a complex interaction between sleep-disordered breathing, diminished respiratory drive, and obesity-related respiratory impairment, and is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. Therapy directed toward reversing these abnormalities leads to improved daytime breathing, with available treatment options including positive pressure therapy, weight loss, and pharmacological management. However, a lack of large-scale, well-designed studies evaluating these various therapies has limited the development of evidence-based treatment recommendations. Although treatment directed toward improving sleep-disordered breathing is usually effective, not all patients tolerate mask ventilation and awake hypercapnia may persist despite effective use. In the longer term, weight loss is desirable, but data on the success and sustainability of this approach in obesity hypoventilation are lacking. The review outlines the major mechanisms believed to underlie the development of hypoventilation in this subgroup of obese patients, their clinical presentation, and current therapy options.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bariatric Surgery
  • Humans
  • Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome / therapy
  • Positive-Pressure Respiration
  • Respiratory Mechanics / physiology
  • Weight Loss / physiology