BACKGROUND: Resistive load applied to the airways may induce diaphragmatic fatigue, and hypoxaemia has been shown to predispose to the development of fatigue. Inspiratory muscle fatigue may occur in patients with obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSAS), as these patients repetitively develop both inspiratory loading and hypoxaemia. The results of previous studies on this topic are inconclusive, probably because of the methodological approaches used. METHODS: Six obese patients with OSAS underwent a polysomnographic study. The diaphragmatic pressure time index (PTI) was evaluated as an indicator of diaphragmatic contraction, and the mean frequency of the diaphragmatic electromyogram power spectrum (Fm) and the maximum relaxation rate of transdiaphragmatic pressure (MRR) as indices of a fatiguing diaphragm. A total of 119 randomly selected apnoeas (each including 5-13 occluded efforts) were analysed throughout the night in non-REM sleep to assess possible muscle fatigue due to the high pressure generation in each apnoea. A breath-by-breath within-apnoea analysis was performed on the first three pre-apnoeic breaths, on all the occluded efforts, and on the first three unoccluded breaths following the apnoea interruption. Possible fatigue development due to the cumulative effect of apnoeas over the night was also evaluated. RESULTS: A progressive increase of Fm and MRR was found during the obstructive phase in all the subjects in the within-apnoea analysis. The overnight analysis did not show a reduction in either PTI, Fm, or MRR secondary to recurrent upper airway obstruction during the night. CONCLUSIONS: No evidence of diaphragmatic fatigue or impaired diaphragmatic contraction was found either within each apnoea or throughout the whole night, despite the generation of high PTI values during the apnoeic occluded phases. It is concluded that diaphragmatic fatigue does not occur in OSAS during non-REM sleep.
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