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Using CPAP for COPD

What is COPD?

Fast facts

  1. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of lung conditions that result in less oxygen circulating throughout your body.
  2. One treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy.
  3. CPAP therapy is usually used to treat sleep apnea. It involves the use of a small bedside machine that pumps air through a tube and into a mask that’s worn over your nose and mouth while you sleep.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of lung conditions that include chronic bronchitis and emphysema. It’s a chronic condition that makes breathing difficult, and can lead to coughing and chest discomfort. COPD is a progressive disease, which means that it gets worse over time. There’s no cure for COPD, but there are several types of treatments that can slow the progression and ease symptoms.

Maintaining healthy levels of oxygen in your bloodstream is necessary for brain function and for the health of all your organs, muscles, and tissue. Having COPD means that you have less oxygen circulating throughout your body. The condition is often the result of long-term smoking, and may be from damage to the tiny air sacs in the lungs or to the airways that deliver air through the nose and mouth and down to the lungs. COPD may also be the result of a thickening of the walls of your airways or excessive mucus production in the airways. This thickening and mucus can clog the pathway of air to the lungs.

While oxygen therapy, medications, and even surgery often have the biggest impact on COPD symptoms, a treatment for sleep apnea may be helpful, too. Sleep apnea is a condition that causes you to stop breathing temporarily or gasp for breath while sleeping.

The treatment is called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. It involves the use of a small bedside machine that pumps air through a tube and into a mask that’s worn over your nose and mouth while you sleep. It’s similar to the oxygen therapy many people with COPD use during the day.

CPAP and sleep

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of sleep apnea. It results when your airway becomes blocked while you sleep as a result of muscles relaxing in the back of the throat. Large tonsils and extra fat around the neck may be to blame, though plenty of thin people without their tonsils develop OSA.

There are several types of treatment for sleep apnea, but CPAP is usually considered the best option, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The machines are programmed to run for a set number of hours at a pressure that is comfortable yet effective at keeping you breathing normally. CPAP machines are also portable and fairly quiet. Newer equipment includes smaller, more comfortable masks. Benefits of CPAP therapy include better heart health, lower stroke risk, and improved alertness during the day.

CPAP and COPD

According to a study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, another benefit of CPAP therapy is a lower risk of mortality in people who have COPD and sleep apnea. The researchers found that people with both conditions who used CPAP for more than two hours a night tended to live longer than those who used the therapy for fewer than two hours a night. Researchers also noted that CPAP was especially beneficial to people with COPD who were already on long-term oxygen therapy.

CPAP therapy is helpful for those with COPD who also have hypercapnia, according to a report in American Family Physician. Hypercapnia occurs when the body has an unusually high level of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. COPD and other lung diseases are the main causes of hypercapnia, which can be fatal if not properly treated.

Getting started with CPAP

COPD makes breathing difficult when you’re sitting, standing, or being active. Lying flat on your back can be even more troublesome for anyone with a breathing disorder. COPD can also reduce blood flow to the brain while sleeping. You may benefit from CPAP even if you don’t have sleep apnea.

If you have COPD, even if it’s at a mild stage, ask your doctor about CPAP therapy. If you’ve never been diagnosed with sleep apnea, you may benefit from an overnight sleep study that measures your oxygen levels during the night. It can help identify moments when your breathing is interrupted. If your doctor doesn’t know much about sleep disorders, ask for a referral to a sleep disorder specialist or pulmonary specialist. They can determine if your particular chronic lung condition might benefit from CPAP.

You will require ongoing care to manage your symptoms if you have COPD. CPAP therapy is one option that might complement your disease management.

Getting fitted for a mask and learning how to use the equipment properly may take a little time. However, if it improves your body’s oxygen levels, boosts your energy, and allows you to have uninterrupted sleep, CPAP therapy might be worth exploring.

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