When a Mask Helps Save a Life

CPAP usage for COPD and obstructive sleep apnea patients linked to better survival

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Having a sleep disorder like sleep apnea can be compounded by another breathing difficulty, like COPD. But following doctors' treatment guidelines can make a difference.

A recent study found that patients with both COPD and obstructive sleep apnea had a better survival rate if they used their CPAP for longer periods.

COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. CPAP is the most common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. It stands for "continuous positive airway pressure." The treatment involves pushing air into a person's airways through a face mask during the night while they sleep.

Treatment with CPAP has been shown to improve patients' sleep apnea symptoms, daytime sleepiness and other sleep outcomes. But CPAP only works if patients use it.

"Follow your doctor's instructions for CPAP usage."

This study was led by Michael Stachina, MD, of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at Brown University's Alpert School of Medicine in Rhode Island.

The researchers aimed to find out whether adhering to CPAP usage led to better survival rates among patients with both obstructive sleep apnea and COPD.

The researchers used data from a database of 10,272 patients from 2007 through 2010.

Of these, 3,396 patients had COPD, obstructive sleep apnea or both, whether they were still living or had died.

This group included 1,112 COPD patients and 2,284 patients with obstructive sleep apnea; 227 patients had both conditions.

The researchers compared information on these patients' age, sex, lung function, severity of their sleep apnea (if relevant) and the extent to which they used CPAP.

Among the patients with both COPD and obstructive sleep apnea, 17, or 7.4 percent, had died.

A comparison of their histories with the living patients revealed that using CPAP as directed reduced a person's risk of dying by roughly 29 percent.

The more time the patients spent using CPAP while asleep, the lower the death rates were among those individuals.

As would be expected, the death rate was also related to the patients' ages. Yet the researchers also found that patients who used the CPAP less than two hours a night tended to be older than patients who used it more than two hours a night.

The researchers concluded that the amount of time a patient uses CPAP therefore does seem related to the risk of death.

CPAP machines are designed to be used any time a person is asleep, whether it's for the night or during a nap.

CPAP machines require a prescription and can cost anywhere from $150 to over $5,500, though most insurance plans will cover some or all of the expense. CPAP masks range from $30 to $200.

This study was published August 14 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. The research funding was not noted, but it was not funded by industry.

One author has received consulting or research funds from Philips Respironics, Sepracor, Cephalon, Pfizer, Merck, SHC, SGS, Apnex, Apnicure, Ethicon and Medtronic.

Another author has received speaker's fees for Astra Zeneca, Cephalon and Forrest Pharmaceuticals.

A third author has received speaker's fees from GlaxoSmithKline. No other conflicts of interest were noted.

Review Date: 
August 15, 2013
Last Updated:
August 23, 2013