Prevalence and pathogenesis of sleep apnea and lung disease in acromegaly

Letizia Maria Fatti, Massimo Scacchi, Angela Ida Pincelli, Elisabetta Lavezzi, Francesco Cavagnini

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Respiratory disorders are common and important complications in acromegaly. Patients suffering from acromegaly display a 1.6-3.3 fold increase in mortality rate, which is due to respiratory disorders in 25% of cases. In these patients, mortality for lung disease is 2-3 fold higher than in the general population. Every portion of the respiratory system may be involved. Deformities of facial bones, edema and hypertrophy of the mucosae and pharyngeal and laryngeal cartilages, enlargement of the tongue and inspiratory collapse of the hypopharinx, all may contribute to respiratory alterations. Nasal polyps, "hormonal rhinitis", changes of the voice and snoring are common occurrences. Though rarely, a laryngocele may ensue. Pneumomegaly is frequently observed and, as suggested by functional studies, might be due to an increased number rather than volume of the alveoli. An obstructive respiratory syndrome caused by mucosal thickening of the upper airways and bronchi is observed in 25% of female and 70% of male patients. The sleep apnea syndrome (SAS) affects 60-70% of acromegalic patients. SAS may be of obstructive, central or mixed type. Obstructive SAS is the prevailing form in acromegaly. It is due to intermittent obstruction of upper airways with preserved activity of the respiratory center, as testified by the remarkable thoracic and abdominal respiratory efforts. The pathogenesis of the central type of SAS is more complex. Narrowing of the upper airways may induce reflex inhibition of the respiratory center. Moreover, increased GH levels and, possibly, defects in the somatostatinergic pathways, may increase the ventilatory response of the respiratory center to carbon dioxide, thereby leading to respiratory arrest. In the mixed type of SAS, the phenomena underlying the other two forms coexist. Oxygen desaturation concomitant with the apneic episodes accounts for the frequent nocturnal wakening and diurnal drowsiness. Among the clinical correlates of SAS, arterial hypertension is of particular interest due to the close correlation existing between the two disorders. Sleep deprivation related to SAS seems per se to favor the appearance of hypertension. Moreover, short lasting hypoxemia may induce prolonged elevations of blood pressure, mediated by decreased endothelial generation of nitric oxide. Thus, since cardiovascular events are the main cause of mortality in patients with acromegaly, it is reasonable to hypothesize that SAS is involved in the reduced life span of these patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-262
Number of pages4
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2001


  • Acromegaly
  • Lung disease
  • Respiratory function
  • Sleep apnea

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology


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