BiPAP Therapy and COPD

In BiPAP therapy, as with CPAP therapy, a machine helps you breathe through a mask connected to a tube, usually as you sleep. Doctors use it most often to treat obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA.

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, means you have a certain lung condition or combination of lung conditions that make it harder to breathe. They also get worse over time. The two main conditions are:

Sometimes, refractory (severe) asthma can also play a role in COPD.

Can BiPAP Therapy Help COPD Symptoms?

Perhaps. Some evidence shows it might help in certain types of COPD cases. But scientists need more information to find out where and when it helps most.

Your overall health, other illnesses, and the type and stage of your COPD all make a difference.

In addition, though some people have had success at home, many doctors recommend this therapy only in a hospital setting, especially at first. Medical personnel may need to watch its effects on things like the blood oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your blood and your breathing muscles.

If you use BiPAP therapy for your COPD at home after you leave the hospital, you may need to go back to your health care provider for new tests from time to time.

How Does BiPAP Work?

In the simplest terms, a BiPAP machine helps you breathe as you sleep. As with CPAP, light air pressure from the BiPAP machine helps make sure your airway doesn’t close and interrupt your breathing as you sleep.

The machine has a small motor that blows air into a tube that connects to a mask that covers your nose and mouth, or in some cases just your nose.

The “Bi” in BiPAP stands for “bilevel.” It means there are two levels of pressure: a normal one as you breathe in and a lower one that makes it easier to breathe out. Many people find this more comfortable than the constant airflow from a CPAP machine.

If you have moderate to severe COPD, you may use a BiPAP machine at the hospital to help with sudden, intense symptoms. You can also use them at home to help with sleep. They’ll keep your blood oxygen levels up and remove carbon dioxide.

Just remember that BiPAP is not always helpful for COPD. Talk to your doctor about whether you are a good candidate for BiPAP-aided breathing for your COPD.

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What if You Have COPD and Sleep Apnea?

Your doctor might call this “overlap syndrome.” It simply means you have both COPD and sleep apnea. Research shows that about 15% of people with COPD also have sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea happens when your windpipe closes and stops your breathing for a few seconds as you sleep -- sometimes hundreds of times a night. Although it can affect anyone, it’s more likely after age 40. Excess body fat could be one reason for sleep apnea, but it’s not the only one.

Overlap syndrome makes it more likely that your blood-oxygen level will be low and your CO2 levels high as you sleep. BiPAP seems to help in many cases, though not all. That’s why it’s best to talk to your doctor about the best overall plan for your symptoms.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on July 31, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Sleep Apnea Association: “What Is Sleep Apnea?” “Mask Types.”

Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine: “An Overview of Sleep Disorders.”

Medscape: “Noninvasive Ventilation.”

National Sleep Foundation: “COPD and Difficulty Breathing,” “What is Sleep Apnea?”

UpToDate: “Nocturnal ventilatory support in COPD,” “Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: Definition, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and staging.”

Cedars-Sinai: “Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).”

American Sleep Association: “CPAP and BiPAP: Which One is Best For You?”

Mayo Clinic: “COPD.”

American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology: “Asthma-COPD Overlap.”

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