Sleep-related hypoxemia

Malia Jacobson

Sleep-related hypoxemia is a sleep-related breathing disorder characterized by abnormally low oxygen levels in the blood, usually related to sleep-disordered breathing patterns like hypoventilation, sleep apnea, or another type of breathing abnormality. Generally, oxygen saturation levels below 90 percent indicate hypoxemia, and levels below 80 percent are considered severe hypoxemia. Hypoxemia is sometimes called hypoxia.

· Rapid heart rate
· Shortness of breath, particularly in a horizontal position
· Fast, shallow breathing
· In children, mouth breathing or excessive drooling may be signs of hypoxemia.

In severe cases, late signs of hypoxia or hypoxemia can include the inability to speak, extreme confusion, and coma or deat

In people with a sleep-related breathing disorder, nighttime breathing that’s abnormally slow, shallow, or that stops and starts can result in too little oxygen in the blood. Sleep-related hypoxemia can also be triggered by environments that reduce the amount of oxygen available to the body, like high altitudes, air travel, or smoke.

Health conditions affecting the lungs including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer, phenomena and asthma can increase the risk of hypoxemia.

Certain narcotic pain relievers that alter breathing patterns can contribute to hypoxemia, including codeine, fentanyl, and morphine.

Diagnosis

Hypoxemia is diagnosed with an oximeter, a small device used to measure blood oxygen levels.

Treatment

Sleep-related hypoxemia is usually treated by correcting the sleep-disordered breathing pattern that’s causing reduced blood oxygen. Sleep apnea or other sleep-related breathing disorders are treated by correcting breathing obstructions or using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy.

Those who can’t tolerate positive airway pressure therapy may be treated with a nasal device that delivers supplemental oxygen, which helps restore blood oxygen levels to normal. In severe cases, hypoxemia may be treated in a hyperbaric chamber.

Additional Resources