Thorax 64:133-138 doi:10.1136/thx.2007.088930
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Isolated nocturnal desaturation in COPD: prevalence and impact on quality of life and sleep

  1. C A Lewis1,
  2. W Fergusson1,
  3. T Eaton1,
  4. I Zeng2,
  5. J Kolbe1,3
  1. 1
    Respiratory Services, Auckland City Hospital, Auckland, New Zealand
  2. 2
    Biostatistics Unit, Auckland City Hospital, Auckland, New Zealand
  3. 3
    Department of Medicine, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
  1. Dr C Lewis, Respiratory Services, Auckland City Hospital, Grafton, Auckland, New Zealand; clewis{at}
  • Received 15 August 2007
  • Accepted 16 March 2008
  • Published Online First 4 April 2008


Background and aims: The clinical impact of nocturnal desaturation on health related quality of life (HRQL) and sleep in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has been little studied. The aim of this study was to evaluate the prevalence and clinical impact of nocturnal desaturation in a typical outpatient population with COPD.

Patients and methods: Between 2002 and 2005, consecutive patients with COPD attending outpatient services at the study centre underwent resting oximetry if they were not on domiciliary oxygen therapy. If their resting saturations were less than 95%, overnight pulse oximetry was performed. Significant nocturnal desaturation was defined as spending more than 30% of at least one of two nights with a saturation of less than 90%. The Chronic Respiratory Questionnaire (CRQ) and Short Form 36 (SF36) were used to assess HRQL, and the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), Epworth Sleepiness Score (ESS) and Functional Outcomes of Sleep (FOSQ) questionnaires were used to assess sleep quality and daytime function.

Results: Of 1104 patients, 803 underwent resting oximetry and 79 had resting oxygen saturations of less than 95%. Of these, 59 agreed to undergo overnight oximetry (mean age 70 years, forced expiratory volume in 1 s 37.2% predicted, resting Po2 on air 8.9 kPa). Significant nocturnal desaturation was seen in 29 (49.2%) of the 59 subjects. Assuming the less hypoxic patients do not have nocturnal desaturation, the prevalence of nocturnal desaturation in the whole clinic population could be estimated at 4.8%. There were no significant differences in CRQ, SF36, PSQI, ESS or FOSQ scores for desaturators compared with non-desaturators.

Conclusion: Significant nocturnal desaturation was common in patients with COPD with resting saturations of less than 95%, but was estimated to have a prevalence of less than 5% in the whole outpatient population. Nocturnal desaturation was not associated with impairment of HRQL, sleep quality or daytime function.


  • Funding: This study was funded by a grant from the Auckland Medical Research Foundation.

  • Competing interests: None.

  • Ethics approval: The study was approved by the Auckland Ethics Committee.