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A doctor and a nurse speak with a patient as she prepares for her sleep study.

COPD & Sleep Apnea

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and chronic asthma. COPD causes airways to block and that makes it difficult to get air in and out of the lungs. The combination of mucus accumulation and lung damage cause the air sacs to be floppy and decreases lung function. Sleep provides us with many health benefits such as a stronger immune system to fight disease; rebalanced hormones, tissue and cell repair, resting of the heart, and improved brain function. When we sleep muscle tone in the airway relaxes. COPD suffers use more of the accessory muscles in an attempt to address the floppy airways. During sleep the lung function of COPD suffers is impacted more by the natural relaxation of the muscle which prevents them from the accessory muscle usage.

Treatment Strategies for COPD

  • Quit Smoking
  • Regular Medical Follow Up
  • Comprehensive Medication Plan
  • Avoid Pollutants
  • Flu/Pneumonia Prevention
  • Pulmoary Rehabilitation
  • Oxygen Therapy
  • Surgery
  • Support Groups

Sleep apnea is a disorder where the airway slackens during sleep and closes during sleep. Normally, the muscle tone that supports the airway relaxes during sleep to a slight degree. This process becomes problematic when the relaxation of the airway narrows the breathing passage so much, that it makes breathing difficult. The airway becomes so restricted that the brain senses this difficulty and increases the breathing effort. Eventually, the increased effort awakens the brain to stimulate the relaxed muscles and reopens the breathing passage. This process becomes repetitive throughout the night and disrupts the sleep causing daytime sleepiness symptoms.

Sleep Apnea Complaints

  • Loud snoring
  • Often feeling tired and fatigue
  • Choking and gasping for air or breathing pauses
  • Trouble with concentration and memory
  • Morning headaches
  • Falling asleep inappropriately

Consequences of Untreated Sleep Apnea

  • Heart Attack
  • Stroke
  • Heart Failure
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Depression
  • Diabetes

Sleep apnea poses an even greater burden to COPD suffers. Sleep apnea decreases bold oxygen levels and causes the already floppy airways to collapse increasing air trapping. Lung function is impacted more significantly in patients with both disorders. This process fragments sleep and reduces the quality and quantity of sleep. Identifying and treating sleep apnea in COPD patients can improve quality of life and decrease the added mortality risk compounded by the sleep apnea.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the gold standard treatment for sleep apnea with overlap COPD disease. CPAP is a highly effective therapy that splints open the airway with fresh filtered air during sleep. Bi-level therapy is a dual pressure therapy in which the pressure decreases at exhalation. The reduced pressure at exhalation eases exhalation and is often a good alternative for suffers. Oxygen therapy is may be indicated along with the pressure therapy to maintain blood oxygen level.

Talk to your doctor if you have these signs & symptoms.

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