CPAP Therapy and COPD

CPAP therapy means a special machine helps you breathe with a tube, usually as you sleep. Doctors use it most often to treat obstructive sleep apnea.

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, means you have one of three lung diseases that make it harder to breathe and get worse over time:

Can CPAP Therapy Help COPD Symptoms?

It depends. 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 treatment only in a hospital setting, especially at first. Doctors may need to keep an eye on how it affects things like your blood oxygen and carbon dioxide levels and breathing muscles.

If you use CPAP therapy for your COPD at home after a hospital stay, you may need to return to your doctor for new tests from time to time.

How Does CPAP Work?

In the simplest terms, a CPAP machine helps you breathe as you sleep.

CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. Light air pressure from the CPAP machine helps make sure your airway doesn’t close and interrupt your breathing as you sleep.

The CPAP 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.

People with moderate to severe COPD may use a CPAP at the hospital to help with sudden, intense symptoms or at home to help with sleep and to keep oxygen levels up and remove carbon dioxide.

Regular CPAP use doesn’t always help people with COPD. Talk to your doctor about whether a CPAP machine is right for your COPD.

What If You Have COPD and Sleep Apnea?

Your doctor might call this “overlap syndrome.” It means you have both COPD and sleep apnea.

OSA happens when your windpipe closes and stops your breathing for a few seconds as you sleep. This can happen hundreds of times a night. Though it can affect anyone, it’s more likely after age 40. You might notice grogginess in the daytime with this condition. Extra body fat could be one reason for sleep apnea, but it’s not the only reason.

Research shows this happens in about 15% of people with COPD.

Overlap syndrome makes it more likely that your oxygen level will be low and your CO2 level will be high as you sleep. CPAP seems to help in many cases, though not all. Talk to your doctor about the best overall plan for your symptoms.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on August 06, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

AAST: “BiPAP™ (Bilevel positive airway pressure) or CPAP Therapy?” “What is CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) Therapy?”

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

Medscape: “Noninvasive Ventilation.”

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

Sleep.org: “What is Sleep Apnea?”

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

American Sleep Apnea Association: “What Is Sleep Apnea?”

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