Is Hypopnea Dangerous?

Hypopnea can be defined as abnormally slow or shallow breathing. It is distinct from apnea, in which there is a total cessation of breathing. While apnea occurs when airflow from your lungs is completely blocked by an obstruction from your throat, hypopnea occurs when the airway is only partially blocked and airflow from your lungs is reduced for at least 10 seconds. Sleep apnea and hypopnea often occur together and share similar symptoms.[1]

Causes of Hypopnea

hypopnea, what is hypopnea, is hyponea dangerous?The causes of hypopnea are similar to those of sleep apnea and include:[2]

  • Obesity
  • Large tongue
  • Narrow airway
  • Nasal obstruction
  • Large neck or collar size
  • Drinking alcohol before going to sleep or taking sedatives or other drugs
  • Excess tissue at the back of the throat (tongue, uvula, soft palate, enlarged tonsils and adenoids)

When the throat muscles relax, the airway becomes partially blocked causing breathing to be disrupted for up to 10 seconds at a time, many times a night. This lowers the oxygen level in your blood and causes a build-up of carbon dioxide. Once your brain senses your breathing has stopped or is impaired, it rouses you from sleep and summons you to take a breath. This cycle can repeat itself throughout the night causing you to snore very loudly and awaken snorting or gasping for air. Oftentimes, you won’t remember the awakenings and you may wake up in the morning with a headache, feeling fatigued and in a state of unrest.2

Diagnosing Hypopnea

Like sleep apnea, hypopnea is diagnosed during a test called a polysomnography, better known as a sleep study. During the test, you’ll stay overnight in a sleep lab and be hooked up to machines that monitor your heart rate, breathing rate and level of oxygen in your blood. The test will count how many, if any, apneas and hypopneas you experience during the night.2

Symptoms of Hypopnea

The symptoms of hypopnea are similar to apnea and include:2

  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Frequent awakenings
  • Morning headaches
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Waking up feeling un-refreshed
  • Impaired concentration and awareness
  • Daytime drowsiness and fatigue
  • Loud snoring
  • Low energy

Treatment for Hypopnea

Once you complete your sleep study, your doctor will review your results with you and discuss your treatment options.  Mild to moderate cases often improve or are completely eliminated with over-the-counter medications, lifestyle changes and dental devices. In severe cases, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) can be used while you sleep to send air at a constant, continuous pressure to help keep the airway open. As a last result, surgery may be an option to treat specific cases of hypopnea that don’t respond to any of the above methods.

Lifestyle Changes You Can Make That May Help

Dr. Clifton Hunt, founder of the Delaware Sleep Disorder Centers in Wilmington, Delaware, recommends the following tips if you think you may have hypopnea:[3]

  • Test yourself with an online screening test – think you have hypopnea? Take an online screening test like the Epworth Test to determine if you need to see your doctor or a sleep specialist.
  • Shed some pounds — obesity can cause and complicate hypopnea. If you’re severely overweight or obese, and there is no genetic cause for your hypopnea, losing a significant amount of weight can eliminate your condition completely.
  • Say no to alcohol — alcohol can make your condition significantly worse, especially if you consume alcoholic beverages before bedtime. When it comes to alcohol and hypopnea, just say no!
  • Sleep in an alternate position — gravity causes hypopnea to worsen during sleep as it can contribute to the blocking of your airway. Avoid lying on your back when you sleep and sleep on your side, instead. Dr. Hunt also recommends elevating your head with pillows.
  • Welcome medical options that may improve your condition – after being diagnosed with hypopnea, your doctor may recommend treatment with CPAP, a machine that will help keep your airways open during sleep. Some people find CPAP uncomfortable. Be sure to speak to your health care provider or respiratory therapist if you feel uncomfortable wearing CPAP. There are adjustments that can be made with the machine and the headset that may make you more comfortable.

Is hypopnea dangerous? It can be, but making lifestyle changes and seeing a doctor or sleep specialist as soon as possible will ensure you have a better chance of getting better.

If you have any questions about apnea or hypopnea, speak to your primary care provider or a sleep specialist.

[1] Medical News Today. 5 Tips for Battling Hypopnea Syndrome. October 18, 2017.

[2] Dream Interpretation.Org. Hypopnea Syndrome: Symptoms, Remedies and Causes. Accessed December 30, 2017.

[3] HuffPost. Tips for Battling Hypopnea Syndrome. Updated February 22, 2012.

2 thoughts on “Is Hypopnea Dangerous?”

  1. Avatar Rosanne Bulgarella says:

    Is the Inogen One G3 sufficient for Hypopnea Syndrome or does it require only continuous flow. My MD recommends continuous flow at night only. Would the G3 work for me to take on cruises or long vacations where I would not have a continuous flow at night

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Rosanne, The Inogen One G3 uses pulse-dose technology so it sounds like it would not be right for your particular use case. However the Inogen At Home, our stationary concentrator, is small and only 18 lbs. The Inogen At Home was designed to fit under the airline seat for travel purposes. For more information, please visit: If you have additional questions, please call an Oxygen Specialist at 1-800-374-9038.

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