Avoiding Management Errors in Patients with Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome

Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2016 Jan;13(1):109-14. doi: 10.1513/AnnalsATS.201508-562OT.


The prevalence of obesity hypoventilation syndrome and obstructive sleep apnea are increasing rapidly in the United States in parallel with the obesity epidemic. As the pathogenesis of this chronic illness is better understood, effective evidence-based therapies are being deployed to reduce morbidity and mortality. Nevertheless, patients with obesity hypoventilation still fall prey to at least four avoidable types of therapeutic errors, especially at the time of hospitalization for respiratory or cardiovascular decompensation: (1) patients with obesity hypoventilation syndrome may develop acute hypercapnia in response to administration of excessive supplemental oxygen; (2) excessive diuresis for peripheral edema using a loop diuretic such as furosemide exacerbates metabolic alkalosis, thereby worsening daytime hypoventilation and hypoxemia; (3) excessive or premature pharmacological treatment of psychiatric illnesses can exacerbate sleep-disordered breathing and worsen hypercapnia, thereby exacerbating psychiatric symptoms; and (4) clinicians often erroneously diagnose obstructive lung disease in patients with obesity hypoventilation, thereby exposing them to unnecessary and potentially harmful medications, including β-agonists and corticosteroids. Just as literary descriptions of pickwickian syndrome have given way to greater understanding of the pathophysiology of obesity hypoventilation, clinicians might exercise caution to consider these potential pitfalls and thus avoid inflicting unintended and avoidable complications.

Keywords: acute-on-chronic hypercapnic respiratory failure; diuresis; sedation; supplemental oxygen.

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Disease Management
  • Humans
  • Medication Errors / prevention & control*
  • Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome* / diagnosis
  • Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome* / physiopathology
  • Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome* / therapy