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Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2003 Sep 15;168(6):645-58. Epub 2003 May 28.

Contributions of upper airway mechanics and control mechanisms to severity of obstructive apnea.

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Department of Medicine, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.


The contributions of pharyngeal mechanical abnormalities, flow demand, and compensatory effectiveness to obstructive sleep apnea severity were determined in 82 patients. Flow demand was estimated from mean inspiratory flow on continuous positive airway pressure. Mechanical load on upper airway muscles was estimated from minimal effective continuous positive airway pressure, flow demand, and minimum flow observed during brief pressure dial downs. Compensatory effectiveness was estimated by relating polysomnographic severity and mechanical load. Mechanical load was more severe in men, in supine position, and in older and heavier patients. Higher flow demand contributed significantly to mechanical load in men and in those who are obese. At the same mechanical load, severity was independent of age, sex, or body mass index but was greater in the supine position and in REM sleep. Mechanical load accounted for only 34% of variability in severity. Eighty-two percent of patients experienced periods of stable breathing despite mechanical loads that would produce continuous cycling without compensation. I conclude that most patients can adequately compensate for the abnormal mechanics, at least part of the time. Higher flow demand contributes to severity in men and in obesity. Severity is largely due to factors other than mechanical load. Compensatory effectiveness is impaired in the supine position and in REM sleep, but not by age, sex, or body mass index.

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