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January 8, 2013
The eponym “Ondine’s curse” in the medical literature usually refers to the failure of automatic respiratory drive with intact voluntary respiration. Ondine was a mythological water nymph who became human by falling in love with a mortal. The now–entrenched eponym is actually a misnomer, as Ondine has never cursed anyone. Patients affected by Ondine’s curse can have prolonged periods of apnea or hypopnea, particularly during sleep. They may require nocturnal mechanical ventilation but depending on the cause, this may be temporary. Infarction involving the medulla is one of the most common causes of Ondine’s curse. Other reported causes include loss of vagal and chemotactic input to the medullary carbon dioxide receptors, bulbar polio causing damage to the reticulospinal pathways, cervical cordotomy for pain control, and anterior spinal artery infarction.
Submitted by: Jennifer E. Fugate, D.O.
Disclosure: Dr. Fugate served on the editorial team for the Neurology® Resident and Fellow Section.
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