You may have heard of apnea, which is a pause of your breathing, often while sleeping. But do you know how it’s connected to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF)? Keep reading to find out.

What is IPF?

The term “idiopathic” means that the cause of a disease is unknown. The onset and progression of IPF are also not well known. The course of the disease varies with each person. In general, symptoms are:

  • shortness of breath
  • a dry hacking cough
  • fatigue
  • weight loss
  • enlargement (called clubbing) of your fingertips and nails

IPF is difficult to diagnose in its early stages. Here’s where apnea may provide a helpful clue. Recent studies of people with IPF showed that as many as 88 percent had obstructive sleep apnea.

The connection is not well studied yet, but a 2015 article in European Respiratory Review suggests the following:

  • People with IPF should be referred to sleep centers for diagnosis and apnea treatment.
  • Common biomarkers should be looked for, which would help in earlier diagnosis of IPF.
  • Treatment for apnea may improve the quality of life and longevity of those with IPF.

The same article also suggests that obstructive sleep apnea may play a more direct role in “favoring” the development of IPF or having an impact on the progression of the disease. These are both areas for further research. They’re also red flags for people with apnea and IPF. People with either disease should consider checking for the other.

Sleep disorders can be serious

Snoring is not just a nuisance to those around you. If your snoring is a result of obstructive sleep apnea, it can have serious consequences. If you have apnea, you pause your breathing during sleep for a few seconds or longer. Or you may take only shallow breaths. The snore sound comes when you resume normal breathing. In both cases, your blood oxygen level drops, and your sleep is disrupted. This may happen many times an hour during the night.

The poor-quality sleep of apnea leads to fatigue and sleepiness during the day. The National Blood, Heart, and Lung Institute warns that if apnea is untreated, it can increase your risk of other illnesses and complications, including high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, diabetes, and obesity.

The American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA) estimates that 22 million Americans have sleep apnea. The ASAA also notes that 80 percent of moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea is undiagnosed.

Apnea can be difficult to diagnose in a doctor’s office, when you’re awake. Your doctor may send you to a sleep clinic, where your sleep is monitored. A common apnea treatment is a device that you use during sleep that supplies you with continuous positive airway pressure. Sometimes, if there is an underlying condition present, such as a nasal obstruction, treatment of that condition may stop the apnea from occurring.

If you have apnea

Most of the medical research focuses on helping people with IPF get treatment for apnea to make them more comfortable and possibly aid their longevity. The reverse is also important.

If you have obstructive sleep apnea, and if you have some of the symptoms of IPF, ask your doctor to check for IPF. If you catch IPF early enough, you’ll have a better outcome.