If You Have COPD, You’re At Risk For Sleep Apnea

People with COPD often experience nighttime awakenings due to coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and breathlessness. What they may not be aware of, however, is that they’re at increased risk for sleep apnea, a type of sleep interruption caused by periods when a sufferer stops breathing during sleep. These pauses (known as “apnea”) often last 10 seconds or longer. Apnea may or may not cause a sufferer to wake up enough to know that their sleep is being interrupted, but they are suffering sleep deprivation nevertheless.

It’s not clear why COPD patients have an increased risk for sleep apnea; but contributors may be overweight, nasal congestion, acid reflux, or use of high doses of inhaled corticosteroids.

Sleep Apnea’s Effects on COPD

The effects of sleep apnea can be many. First is sleepiness during the day, simply due to the loss of sleep the night before. People with both COPD and sleep apnea also often have worse respiratory disease, and are at high risk for complications from their COPD. This can increase their need for rescue bronchodilator inhalers as well.

Aside from the symptoms related to COPD, sleep apnea is a serious condition all on its own. Those with moderate to severe sleep apnea who don’t get treatment are at higher risk for hypertension, heart disease, and stroke.

Signs That You May Have Apnea

  • You’re sleepy during the day, even if you had a full night’s sleep.
  • You snore, or make choking or gasping noises while you sleep.
  • You’ve been observed to have periods when you stop breathing when you sleep.
  • You wake up in the morning with headaches.

Steps to Reduce the Chance of Apnea

You can take several steps to reduce the risk of sleep apnea:

  • Insure that you’re getting the optimal medical treatment for your COPD.
  • See your doctor if you experience sudden breathlessness, have nasal congestion, or get heartburn so that you can get these symptoms under better control.
  • If you smoke, quit. This will help both your COPD and the quality of your sleep.
  • If you believe that you may have sleep apnea, tell your health care provider so that you can by tested. Sleep apnea is a treatable condition.

Information for this article was obtained from an article by Jay Balachandran, MD and Mihaela Teodorescu, MD on the American Thoracic Society website.


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