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Pediatrics. 1991 Jul;88(1):132-9.

Obstructive sleep apnea in children with Down syndrome.

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Division of Neonatology and Pediatric Pulmonology, Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles, CA 90027.


Children with Down syndrome have many predisposing factors for the obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS), yet the type and severity of OSAS in this population has not been characterized. Fifty-three subjects with Down syndrome (mean age 7.4 +/- 1.2 [SE] years; range 2 weeks to 51 years) were studied. Chest wall movement, heart rate, electroculogram, end-tidal PO2 and PCO2, transcutaneous PO2 and PCO2, and arterial oxygen saturation were measured during a daytime nap polysomnogram. Sixteen of these children also underwent overnight polysomnography. Nap polysomnograms were abnormal in 77% of children; 45% had obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), 4% had central apnea, and 6% had mixed apneas; 66% had hypoventilation (end-tidal PCO2 greater than 45 mm Hg) and 32% desaturation (arterial oxygen saturation less than 90%). Overnight studies were abnormal in 100% of children, with OSA in 63%, hypoventilation in 81%, and desaturation in 56%. Nap studies significantly underestimated the presence of abnormalities when compared to overnight polysomnograms. Seventeen (32%) of the children were referred for testing because OSAS was clinically suspected, but there was no clinical suspicion of OSAS in 36 (68%) children. Neither age, obesity, nor the presence of congenital heart disease affected the incidence of OSA, desaturation, or hypoventilation. Polysomnograms improved in all 8 children who underwent tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy, but they normalized in only 3. It is concluded that children with Down syndrome frequently in have OSAS, with OSA, hypoxemia, and hypoventilation. Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome is seen frequently in those children in whom it is not clinically suspected. It is speculated that OSAS may contribute to the unexplained pulmonary hypertension seen in children with Down syndrome.

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