Primary alveolar hypoventilation

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Primary alveolar hypoventilation


What causes primary alveolar hypoventilation?

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Primary alveolar hypoventilation is a rare disorder in which inadequate breathing — either too shallow or too slow — leads to respiratory failure in people with normal lungs and airways. The exact cause isn't known. But it may be due to a problem in the part of the brain that controls breathing.

When you inhale, air travels to your lungs through two major airways. These airways subdivide into smaller airways that finally end in clusters of tiny air sacs (alveoli). Within these air sacs are tiny blood vessels where oxygen is added to your blood and carbon dioxide is removed. In alveolar hypoventilation, your lungs don't take in enough air for this exchange to occur properly. This results in reduced oxygen and increased carbon dioxide in your blood. The condition typically worsens at night.

Primary alveolar hypoventilation occurs most often in men between the ages of 20 and 50. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Lethargy
  • Fatigue
  • Morning headache
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Waking up from sleep feeling tired

The only way to confirm a diagnosis of this condition is with arterial blood gas analysis, which measures oxygen and carbon dioxide in blood. Treatment may include:

  • Medications to stimulate the respiratory system
  • Mechanical devices that assist breathing, especially at night
  • Oxygen therapy

Last Updated: 10/13/2006
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