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Sleep Apnea Support Group

Using CPAP

Your doctor has prescribed Continuous Positive Airway Pressure or CPAP therapy for you. When used appropriately, CPAP therapy is nearly 100% effective in managing obstructive sleep apnea. It is important for you to understand why you are using the therapy and the benefits you may expect from using it. In order to better explain CPAP and its use, let's look at some of the most common questions patients may have about its use.

Why am I using CPAP?

Most people using CPAP have a condition known as obstructive sleep apnea or OSA. During sleep, the muscles in the back of the throat relax causing the upper airway to become smaller. This is especially true during the deepest stages of sleep (called Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep). In some individuals, the upper airway can actually collapse, causing a blockage of air movement into the lungs. When airflow is stopped for at least 10 seconds, it is referred to as apnea. These apneas can occur many times each hour and hundreds of times each night.

Why is this bad?

Apneas can cause several problems. Oxygen levels in the blood can drop to dangerous levels causing irregular heartbeats and increased blood pressure within the lungs. This stresses the heart and over time can result in damage to the heart. Obstructive sleep apnea is associated with increased blood pressure, heart disease, and even stroke. During apneas, an arousal (moving to "shallower" sleep) may occur, affecting the patient's ability to maintain deeper stages of restful sleep. It is because of this that sleep apnea patients are frequently very sleepy during the day. Other symptoms that may be associated with sleep apnea include sever snoring, waking up gasping or short of breathe, morning headaches, impaired thinking, attention deficit, poor memory, mood changes, depression, and impotence.

How does CPAP therapy help?

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure or CPAP therapy works by creating positive air pressure within the back of the throat, preventing airway collapse, and apnea. This positive pressure pushes out the walls of the throat, creating an "air splint" within the airway in much the same way that water pressure within a garden hose pushes out the walls of the hose preventing it from collapsing. Positive pressure is delivered by the CPAP machine to the airway by a mask that is worn over the nose (called a nasal mask). There are many other interfaces that can be used that vary on the need of the patient.

Consequences of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Cardiovascular Consequences of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Confirmed Associations
  • Hypertension
  • Stroke
  • Ischemic Heart Disease
  • Reduced Drive to Breathe
Suspected Associations
  • Chest Pain at Night
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Heart Enlargement

Behavioral/Nervous System Consequences of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Confirmed Associations
  • Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
  • Attention Deficit

Suspected Associations
  • Learning/Memory Deficit
  • Impotence
  • Decrease in Intellectual Capacity

What is Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure or BiPAP® therapy?

Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure delivers two different pressures to the airway; one during inspiration, and a lower pressure during exhalation. Some patients find this to be more comfortable than a single continuous pressure.

Are there problems with CPAP or BiPAP® therapy?

Click here for intolerance solutions and other possible alternatives.

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