Frequency of flow limitation using airflow shape

Dwayne Mann, Thomas Georgeson, Shane A. Landry, Bradley A. Edwards, Ali Azarbarzin, Daniel Vena, Lauren B. Hess, Andrew Wellman, Susan Redline, Scott A. Sands, Philip Ian Terrill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


STUDY OBJECTIVES: The presence of flow limitation during sleep is associated with adverse health consequences independent of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) severity (apnea-hypopnea index, AHI), but remains extremely challenging to quantify. Here we present a unique library and an accompanying automated method that we apply to investigate flow limitation during sleep. METHODS: A library of 117,871 breaths (N = 40 participants) were visually classified (certain flow limitation, possible flow limitation, normal) using airflow shape and physiological signals (ventilatory drive per intra-esophageal diaphragm EMG). An ordinal regression model was developed to quantify flow limitation certainty using flow-shape features (e.g. flattening, scooping); breath-by-breath agreement (Cohen's ƙ); and overnight flow limitation frequency (R2, %breaths in certain or possible categories during sleep) were compared against visual scoring. Subsequent application examined flow limitation frequency during arousals and stable breathing, and associations with ventilatory drive. RESULTS: The model (23 features) assessed flow limitation with good agreement (breath-by-breath ƙ = 0.572, p < 0.001) and minimal error (overnight flow limitation frequency R2 = 0.86, error = 7.2%). Flow limitation frequency was largely independent of AHI (R2 = 0.16) and varied widely within individuals with OSA (74[32-95]%breaths, mean[range], AHI > 15/h, N = 22). Flow limitation was unexpectedly frequent but variable during arousals (40[5-85]%breaths) and stable breathing (58[12-91]%breaths), and was associated with elevated ventilatory drive (R2 = 0.26-0.29; R2 < 0.01 AHI v. drive). CONCLUSIONS: Our method enables quantification of flow limitation frequency, a key aspect of obstructive sleep-disordered breathing that is independent of the AHI and often unavailable. Flow limitation frequency varies widely between individuals, is prevalent during arousals and stable breathing, and reveals elevated ventilatory drive. Clinical trial registration: The current observational physiology study does not qualify as a clinical trial.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberzsab170
Number of pages13
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • airflow obstruction
  • automated
  • classification
  • diaphragm EMG
  • inspiratory flow limitation
  • phenotype
  • polysomnography
  • upper airway resistance syndrome

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