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Today is November 24th, 2014
 
 
 

Continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, is the most common and effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The steady flow of air from a CPAP machine keeps your airway open and restores normal oxygen levels as you sleep. This helps you maintain a steady, healthy level of breathing through the night.

For many people, the positive results of using CPAP are quick and dramatic. Their initial night of using CPAP may feel like the first good night of sleep they have had in years. Others may not notice improvements right away. It may take time for them to adjust to this new way of sleeping.

By working to normalize your breathing, CPAP helps protect you from the severe health risks that are related to OSA. These risks include the following:


Heart Disease

Many of the risks involved with OSA are related to how your heart functions. A person with an extreme case of sleep apnea can stop breathing hundreds of times in one night. The pauses in breathing cause drastic changes in your oxygen levels. This puts an enormous strain on your heart and can lead to an increase in your heart rate.

Research shows that people with OSA have a higher rate of death due to heart disease. The link is strongest between OSA and high blood pressure. Studies also show that CPAP may reduce these high blood pressure levels in people with sleep apnea. The use of CPAP over an extended period of time may help protect you from heart problems and reduce your chance of dying from them. These problems include the following:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Irregular heartbeat
Stroke

Recent research has also shown that sleep apnea greatly increases your risk of stroke. A stroke is a sudden loss of brain function. It occurs when there is a blockage or rupture of one of the blood vessels leading to the brain. Stroke is one of the leading causes of death and long-term disability in the U.S.

Studies show that people with OSA are two to four times more likely to have a stroke than people who do not have sleep apnea. The consistent use of CPAP can reduce this risk of stroke for a person with OSA.

Diabetes

OSA is also related to glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. These are factors in type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes. Treatment with CPAP can improve insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes and OSA.

Motor Vehicle Accidents

Having sleep apnea can make you up to 15 times more likely to be involved in a deadly motor vehicle accident. The daytime sleepiness caused by OSA can make it hard for you to stay awake while driving. Treating sleep apnea with CPAP reduces your risk of being in an accident.

In addition to reducing the health risks related to sleep apnea, CPAP provides other benefits that contribute to your overall health and well-being. It helps you in the following areas:

Alertness

CPAP can reduce the sleepiness and daytime fatigue that are common symptoms of sleep apnea. By preventing pauses in breathing as you sleep, CPAP restores a normal sleep pattern and increases your total sleep time. This helps you to wake up in the morning feeling more refreshed.

Concentration

Using CPAP may enable you to think, concentrate and make decisions better during the day. This can reduce your chance of injury at work and improve your productivity.

Emotional stability

People who use CPAP often show reduced levels of depression and higher ratings of their quality of life.

Medical expenses

Sleep apnea causes you to visit the doctor more often and have higher annual medical expenses than a person without OSA. These annual expenses decrease when you use CPAP to treat sleep apnea.

Snoring

By keeping your airway open as you sleep, CPAP can also reduce the sound of snoring. You may not notice this because many people are unaware of their snoring levels. But your bed partner will benefit greatly from the quieter sleeping environment.


The key is to continue using CPAP all night, every night and during every nap. You put your health at risk if you only use CPAP part of the time. Partial use also keeps your body from getting fully adjusted to the breathing assistance.

Get the maximum benefit from your CPAP by making a long-term commitment to improve your sleep and your health. Talk to your CPAP supplier if you need help with your CPAP treatment. Contact your sleep doctor if you experience any ongoing problems.

Copyright © 2005 American Academy of Sleep Medicine
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