By Jennifer Nelson
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are two very different health issues. COPD is a lung disorder on par with emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma, while sleep apnea is a condition that impacts breathing while sleeping. But, as it turns out, one device can offer relief for both issues.
A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device is effective in significantly improving lung function—a positive for COPD patients. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine suggests that CPAP reduces mortality rates in people who have overlap syndrome—when patients have both COPD and OSA.
People with COPD experience difficulty breathing, chronic cough, fatigue and chest tightening. Sleep problems and sleepiness also are common in COPD patients, due in part to the disease and medications used to treat COPD. Overlap syndrome is associated with reduced blood oxygen levels during sleep, which leads to extreme fatigue and other health problems.
Research suggests 11 percent of OSA patients have some COPD symptoms, and 20 percent to 40 percent of COPD patients have OSA.
“This study adds to the growing body of literature regarding the combined impact of OSA in patients with COPD,” said lead author and principal investigator Dr. Michael L. Stanchina, clinical assistant professor of medicine at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University and a 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.”
Stanchina his group was most surprised to find that any level of CPAP use reported in the study was associated with a mortality benefit, vs. not using the CPAP at all.
Though questions remain—the interaction between these two diseases are being looked at and linked—the gold standard in treating overlap syndrome still consists of CPAP therapy.