The most common treatment for sleep apnea not only helps sufferers sleep through the night. New research shows it can substantially lower the risk of death for people with the disorder and the lung condition COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, found that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy reduces the mortality rate in people who have both COPD and obstructive sleep apnea — which the authors refer to as "the overlap syndrome."
The findings, by Brown University researchers, are based on an analysis of 10,272 outpatients — one-third of whom had had COPD or apnea, and 227 had both conditions. All patients in the "overlap syndrome" group were treated with CPAP therapy.
The results showed patients who used CPAP had a significantly higher survival than those who did not. What’s more, even minimal use of CPAP was associated with some reduction in the risk of death, and the benefits increased with more nightly hours of CPAP therapy.
"This study adds to the growing body of literature regarding the combined impact of [apnea] in patients with COPD," said lead researcher Michael L. Stanchina, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University and physician at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, R.I. "We have shown that more time on CPAP in patients with the overlap syndrome was associated with a reduced risk of death, after controlling for common risk factors."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco smoke is the leading cause of COPD, which leads to airflow blockage and makes it hard to breathe. Obstructive sleep apnea is believed to affect up to 7 percent of men and 5 percent of women. It involves repetitive episodes of complete or partial upper airway obstruction occurring during sleep.
CPAP therapy, which helps keep the airway open by providing a stream of air through a mask that is worn during sleep, is the most effective treatment for sleep apnea.
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