Effect of mild obstructive sleep apnea in mountaineers during the climb to Mount Aconcagua

Alvaro Emilio Ortiz-Naretto, Miriam Patricia Pereiro, Glenda Ernst, Juan Manuel Aramburo, Ana María Tovo, Andres Vázquez-Fernández, Eduardo Borsini
Sleep Science 2020, 13 (2): 138-144

Objective: to compare mountaineers with and without asymptomatic sleep apnea (OSA) before the ascent and to study high altitude-related sleep disorders, its interaction with metabolic, neuroendocrine and immunological components.

Material and Methods: During an expedition to Mount Aconcagua, researchers assessed the respiratory polygraphy (RP), clinical condition and inflammatory parameters, and rhythm of cortisol secretion in mountaineers sleeping at different altitude camps.

Results: 8 athletes (4 women), 36 years old (25-51) participated. Baseline and final BMI were; 23.6 (20.9-28.7) and 22.77 (20.9-27.7), respectively: p<0.01. 40 valid RP recordings were analyzed. At 746 m.a.s.l. (baseline), only 2 mountaineers presented mild asymptomatic OSA. The OSA group presented baseline apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) values between 5-15 events per hour, which evidence a mild respiratory sleep disorder with AHI increased by altitude depending of central apneas and hypopneas (p<0.05) as high altitude periodic breathing pattern but no increase in obstructive apneas (p<0.01). The circadian rhythm of cortisol was maintained in all cases in which they had not received treatment with dexamethasone and their values increased with the altitude reached. Increased systolic blood pressure was observed in the OSA group.

Conclusion: In a context of hypobaric hypoxia, individuals with pre-existing asymptomatic OSA are prone to experiencing lower oxygen saturations and clinical deterioration.

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