Overnight tape recordings of breathing movements, airflow, and arterial oxygen saturation from six infants aged 3 weeks to 7 months, who had cyanotic episodes associated with pertussis, were compared with recordings from 12 age matched healthy controls. In all patients clinically apparent apnoeic episodes were associated with the rapid onset and progression of central cyanosis. When overnight recordings were compared, patients with pertussis had a greater frequency of apnoeic pauses (particularly those greater than or equal to 12.0 seconds duration) and a greater frequency of episodes of hypoxaemia (oxygen saturation less than or equal to 80% for greater than or equal to 0.5 seconds) associated with apnoeic pauses. In addition to episodes of hypoxaemia associated with a prolonged absence of breathing movements, patients with pertussis had frequent dips in oxygen saturation in association with continued breathing movements with and without continued inspiratory airflow. These episodes of hypoxaemia during continued breathing movements were more common in patients with pertussis. These findings suggest that episodes of abnormal apnoea accompanied by evidence of a mismatch between ventilation and perfusion of the lungs may produce the rapid onset of severe hypoxaemia in infants with pertussis.
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