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Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2009 Jan-Feb;51(4):313-23. doi: 10.1016/j.pcad.2008.02.003.

Mechanisms of apnea.

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Division of Sleep Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Sleep Disorders Program and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.


This paper focuses on the underlying mechanisms contributing to sleep-disordered breathing. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common sleep-related breathing disorder and is characterized by repetitive narrowing or collapse of the pharyngeal airway during sleep. Conversely, central sleep apnea (CSA), highly prevalent in congestive heart failure, is distinguished by a lack of drive to breathe during sleep, resulting in repetitive periods of insufficient ventilation. Both lead to compromised gas exchange, impaired sleep continuity, and catecholamine surges and are associated with major comorbidities including excessive daytime sleepiness and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Although OSA and CSA exist on a spectrum of sleep-disordered breathing, the 2 entities may overlap in their underlying pathophysiologies. This brief review summarizes the etiology and current understanding of OSA and CSA pathophysiology and the role that the cardiovascular system may play in contributing to disease pathology and highlights the likely substantial overlap that exists between the various forms of sleep-disordered breathing.

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