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Curr Cardiol Rev. 2014 Nov;10(4):362-8.

Obstructive sleep apnea and atrial arrhythmogenesis.

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Klinik fur Innere Medizin III, Kardiologie, Angiologie und Internistische Intensivmedizin, Universitatsklinikum des Saarlandes, Kirrberger Str. 1, Geb. 40, D-66421 Homburg/ Saar, Germany.


Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common sustained arrhythmia and is associated with relevant morbidity and mortality. Besides hypertension, valvular disease and cardiomyopathy, mainly ischemic and dilated, also other conditions like obesity, alcohol abusus, genetic factors and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are discussed to contribute to the progression from paroxysmal to persistent AF. The prevalence of OSA among patients with AF is 40-50%. OSA is characterized by periodic or complete cessation of effective breathing during sleep due to obstruction of the upper airways. Obstructive respiratory events result in acute intrathoracic pressure swings and profound changes in blood gases together leading to atrial stretch and acute sympatho-vagal dysbalance resulting in acute apnea related to electrophysiological and hemodynamic alterations. Additionally, repetitive obstructive events in patients with OSA may lead to sympathetic and neurohumoral activation and subsequent structural and functional changes in the atrium creating an arrhythmogenic substrate for AF in the long run. This review focuses on the acute and chronic effects of negative thoracic pressure swings, changes in blood pressure and sympatho-vagal dysbalance induced by obstructive respiratory events on atrial electrophysiology and atrial structure in patients with obstructive sleep apnea.

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