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March 20, 1981

The Kiss of Death

JAMA. 1981;245(11):1152. doi:10.1001/jama.1981.03310360044024

"Ondine's curse," an eponym for apnea caused by loss of automatic control of respiration, owes its origin to the water nymph Ondine, whose mortal husband jilted her to marry a mortal woman. Angered by her husband's infidelity, Ondine cursed him with the loss of respiratory automaticity. As a result, totally dependent on voluntary respiratory movement, he died in his sleep.

Before "Ondine's curse" becomes a household term, it is worthwhile to examine the clinical entity that the eponym represents, as well as its applicability to this entity.

Ahmad et al1 have recently reviewed the central alveolar hypoventilation syndrome. They restrict the use of "Ondine's curse" to the primary alveolar hypoventilation that results from a defect in the central chemoreceptor's responsiveness to carbon dioxide. The lungs and rib cage are normal, but the patient has hypercapnea and hypoxemia—both correctable by voluntary ventilation.

Well defined as the restricted use of "Ondine's