Ondine's Curse - genetic and iatrogenic central hypoventilation as diagnostic options in forensic medicine

Author(s): Susto R, Trnka J, Siewiera J


In the Nordic mythology a man lost his ability to breathe without remembering it after he was cursed by water nymph - referred to as ‘Ondine’s curse’ – and then he died as soon as he fell asleep. Family medicine specialists are familiar with many sleeping disorders that their patients commonly call by the term Ondine’s Curse. In medical sciences this term is historically related to the group of conditions that have as the common denominator seemingly spontaneous onset of life-threatening hypoventilation. The physiology and genetics specialists focus mainly on congenital central hypoventilation syndrome (CCHS), which was proven to be linked to several genetic mutations. Anesthesiologists tend to be more interested in similarly manifesting iatrogenic condition. Typically, patients that were previously subjected to general anesthesia, after temporarily waking up and regaining the spontaneous respiratory drive, later fall back into unconsciousness and develop hypoventilation. Anesthesiologists also call it Ondine’s curse because of the sudden and unexpected sleep onset. The iatrogenic Ondine’s curse is proven to be precipitated by delayed anesthetics release from patients’ fat tissue – where it was deposited at the time general anesthesia was administered – back into bloodstream. Forensic medicine has to consider the latter form of Ondine’s curse called scenario more often, as they investigate sudden deaths related to surgery and general anesthesia in the post-operational care period. These cases may also fall into the category of medical malpractice-related deaths.