Hypoxic hepatitis caused by severe hypoxemia from obstructive sleep apnea

J Clin Gastroenterol. 1997 Jun;24(4):245-9. doi: 10.1097/00004836-199706000-00013.


Cardiac and circulatory failure are the main causes of hypoxic hepatitis. In a prospective study of 142 cases of hypoxic hepatitis collected during a 10-year period, we encountered two cases resulting from extreme arterial hypoxemia without congestive heart failure, cor pulmonale, or circulatory failure. Both patients were morbidly obese women admitted to the intensive care unit for carbonarcosis. Oxygen arterial saturation was very low, less than 35% in both patients, but there was no history of cardiac or respiratory failure and no clinical evidence of circulatory failure. Cardiac function, evaluated by isotopic scintigraphy, was normal. After the episode of hypoxic hepatitis, a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea was made clinically and confirmed by performing nocturnal oximetry, which showed multiple episodes of oxygen desaturation in both patients. Polysonography could be performed in one case and was typical of obstructive sleep apnea. Liver ischemia is the main mechanism leading to hypoxic hepatitis. More recently, the role of passive congestion of the liver has been emphasized. Arterial hypoxemia, however, is generally considered to be a minor factor. Our two cases support the hypothesis that severe arterial hypoxemia may lead to hypoxic hepatitis even in the absence of cardiac and circulatory failure.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Female
  • Hepatitis / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / etiology*
  • Ischemia / etiology
  • Liver / blood supply
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity, Morbid / complications
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / complications*
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / diagnosis


  • Oxygen