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ILAR J. 2009;50(3):282-8.

Vascular effects of intermittent hypoxia.

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  • 1Vascular Physiology Group, University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA.


Obstructive sleep apnea is characterized by repeated upper airway obstruction during sleep and affects between 5% and 20% of the population. Epidemiological studies reveal that sleep apnea and associated intermittent hypoxemia increase the risk for hypertension and vascular disease but the mechanisms underlying these effects are incompletely understood. This review reports the results of rodent models of intermittent hypoxia (IH) and relates them to the observed hemodynamic and vascular consequences of sleep apnea. These animal studies have demonstrated that IH exposure in the absence of any other comorbidity causes hypertension, endothelial dysfunction, and augmented constrictor sensitivity, all due at least in part to increased vascular oxidative stress. Animal studies have used a variety of exposure paradigms to study intermittent hypoxia and these different exposure protocols can cause hypocapnia or hypercapnia-or maintain eucapnia-with accompanying alterations in plasma pH. It appears that these different profiles of arterial blood gases can lead to divergent results but the impact of these differences is still being investigated. Overall, the studies in rodents have clearly demonstrated that the vascular and hemodynamic impact of intermittent hypoxia provides a strong rationale for treating clinical sleep apnea to prevent the resulting cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.

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