Sleep disordered breathing and vascular function in patients with chronic mountain sickness and healthy high-altitude dwellers.

Rexhaj, Emrush; Rimoldi, Stefano F.; Pratali, Lorenza; Brenner, Roman; Andries, Daniela; Soria, Rodrigo; Salinas Salmón, Carlos; Villena, Mercedes; Romero, Catherine; Allemann, Yves; Lovis, Alban; Heinzer, Raphaël; Sartori, Claudio; Scherrer, Urs (2016). Sleep disordered breathing and vascular function in patients with chronic mountain sickness and healthy high-altitude dwellers. Chest, 149(4), pp. 991-998. American College of Chest Physicians 10.1378/chest.15-1450

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Chronic mountain sickness (CMS) is often associated with vascular dysfunction, but the underlying mechanism is unknown. Sleep disordered breathing (SDB) frequently occurs at high altitude. At low altitude SDB causes vascular dysfunction. Moreover, in SDB, transient elevations of right-sided cardiac pressure may cause right-to-left shunting in the presence of a patent foramen ovale (PFO) and, in turn, further aggravate hypoxemia and pulmonary hypertension. We speculated that compared to healthy high-altitude dwellers, in patients with CMS, SDB and nocturnal hypoxemia are more pronounced and related to vascular dysfunction.


We performed overnight sleep recordings, and measured systemic and pulmonary-artery pressure in 23 patients with CMS (mean±SD age 52.8±9.8 y) and 12 healthy controls (47.8±7.8 y) at 3600 m. In a subgroup of 15 subjects with SDB, we searched for PFO with transesophagal echocardiography.


The major new findings were that in CMS patients, a) SDB and nocturnal hypoxemia was more severe (P<0.01) than in controls (apnea/hypopnea index, AHI, 38.9±25.5 vs. 14.3±7.8[nb/h]; SaO2, 80.2±3.6 vs. 86.8±1.7[%], CMS vs. controls), and b) AHI was directly correlated with systemic blood pressure (r=0.5216, P=0.001) and pulmonary-artery pressure (r=0.4497, P=0.024). PFO was associated with more severe SDB (AHI 48.8±24.7 vs. 14.8±7.3[nb/h], P=0.013, PFO vs. no PFO) and hypoxemia.


SDB and nocturnal hypoxemia are more severe in CMS patients than in controls and are associated with systemic and pulmonary vascular dysfunction. The presence of a PFO appeared to further aggravate SDB. Closure of PFO may improve SDB, hypoxemia and vascular dysfunction in CMS patients.

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Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Department of Cardiovascular Disorders (DHGE) > Clinic of Cardiology

Graduate School:

Graduate School for Health Sciences (GHS)

UniBE Contributor:

Rexhaj, Emrush, Rimoldi, Stefano, Soria Maldonado, Rodrigo, Allemann, Yves, Sartori, Claudio, Scherrer, Urs


600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health
500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology




American College of Chest Physicians




Stefano Rimoldi

Date Deposited:

25 Apr 2016 15:45

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:52

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:





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