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Sleep Apnea in Patients with and without a Right-to-Left Shunt.



To assess the presence of right-to-left shunting (RLS) in patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and compare clinical characteristics and parameters of the sleep studies of patients with and without RLS.


The most common cause of RLS is due to intermittent flow through a patent foramen ovale (PFO). PFO occurs more frequently in patients with OSA and may be involved in the exacerbation of OSA.


Patients with an abnormal polysomnogram seen at UCLA-Santa Monica Sleep Medicine Clinic were enrolled. A diagnosis of RLS was made using a transcranial Doppler (TCD) bubble study. Gender and age-matched controls were drawn from patients referred for cardiac catheterization who underwent a TCD. The frequency of RLS in OSA patients and the controls was evaluated. Clinical characteristics and polysomnogram parameters were compared between OSA patients with and without a RLS.


A total of 100 OSA patients and 200 controls participated in the study. The prevalence of RLS was higher in patients with OSA compared to the control group (42% versus 19%; p < 0.0001). Patients with OSA and a RLS had a lower apnea-hypopnea index (AHI), less obstructive apnea, and fewer hypopnea episodes than patients with OSA without a RLS. The baseline and nadir SpO2 were similar in both groups and did not correlate with the level of RLS assessed by TCD. The degree of desaturation for a given respiratory disturbance, as measured by oxygen desaturation index (ODI)/AHI ratio, was higher in OSA patients with RLS versus OSA patients without RLS (0.85 ± 0.07 versus 0.68 ± 0.04; p < 0.0001).


RLS, most commonly due to a PFO, occurs 2.2 times more frequently in OSA patients compared to a control population that was matched for age and gender. The severity of sleep apnea is not greater in OSA patients who have a PFO. However, patients with OSA and a PFO are more likely to become symptomatic at a younger age with an equivalent decrease in nocturnal SpO2, and have greater arterial desaturation in proportion to the frequency of respiratory disturbances.

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