There is as yet no convincing evidence that acetazolamide, a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor, is effective in obstructive sleep apnoea. A study was therefore designed to examine the effect of acetazolamide (250 mg/day) on sleep events and ventilatory control during wakefulness in nine patients with the sleep apnoea syndrome. In eight of the nine patients the apnoea index and the total duration of apnoea were reduced by acetazolamide, and the mean (SEM) apnoea index of all patients changed from 25.0 (6.7) to 18.1 (5.8) episodes an hour. Furthermore, the total time of arterial oxygen desaturation (SaO2)--more than 4% depression in SaO2 from the baseline sleeping level--divided by total sleep time was also significantly decreased and its mean (SEM) value improved from 24.1 (7.9) to 13.6 (4.8)% of total sleep time. Five of the seven patients with varying degrees of daytime hypersomnolence had their symptoms obviously improved. There was no patient whose predominant type of apnoea was converted from the obstructive to the central type, or vice versa. In the studies of wakefulness, metabolic acidosis, an increase of arterial oxygen tension (PaO2) and a decrease of arterial carbon dioxide tension (PaCO2) were observed. The slopes of the occlusion pressure response and the ventilatory response to carbon dioxide increased, and the carbon dioxide ventilatory response line shifted to the left. It is suggested that acetazolamide cannot remove apnoea completely but has a beneficial effect in mild cases of obstructive sleep apnoea through an augmentation of central (CO2, H+) drive and a stabilising effect on ventilatory control.
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