Chronic lung disease in the sleep apnea syndrome

Lung. 1990;168 Suppl:751-61. doi: 10.1007/BF02718204.


Several well controlled epidemiologic and hemodynamic studies suggest that about 20% of sleep apnea syndrome (SAS) patients will have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and the majority of these patients (with combined diseases) will have pulmonary hypertension. Indeed it has been suggested that only patients with underlying hypoxemia, such as that from COPD, will develop right heart failure in the OSA setting. Experience shows that apnea/COPD patients will have severe hypersomnolence associated with the OSA, cough and dyspnea with the airways disease, and edema and plethora related to chronic hypoxemia. Many patients present with respiratory failure and are diagnosed at the time of initial intubation and mechanical ventilation. Episodic nocturnal hypoxemia may be worsened by a steeper rate of desaturation due to lower alveolar and blood oxygen stores, and longer apneas perhaps contributed to by depressed chemosensitivity. Daytime hypoxemia may also add to the severe hemodynamic disturbances. Since COPD cannot be cured, aggressive treatment of SAS is critical. Past studies have shown that tracheostomy or nasal CPAP in this setting not only leads to resolution of episodic nocturnal desaturation but may lead to rapid improvement in daytime oxygenation in many patients. Pulmonary hypertension and other measures of cardiopulmonary function improve when apnea is cured. Elimination of the SAS may disclose nonapneic REM related desaturation that could require supplemental oxygen therapy in addition to tracheostomy or nasal CPAP. Pulmonary function testing in SAS patients with smoking histories, followed by aggressive treatment of SAS, is recommended.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / therapy*
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / therapy*
  • Positive-Pressure Respiration*
  • Pulmonary Circulation / physiology
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / therapy*
  • Tracheostomy