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CPAP or BiPAP: Which Is Right for You?

CPAP or BiPAP: Which Is Right for You?
Kevin Cleary

Yes, breathing is important to us. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out what might happen if we are not able to breathe properly. Our overall health and quality of life would be dramatically hindered if we could not breathe freely. Think about it, just a little bit of a walk would become a hefty task or maybe playing with your child or grandchild could no longer be a possibility. While there may be several different reasons for your breathing to be affected, two of the more serious problems are sleep apnea and COPD. Both of these disorders have an impact on our breathing, but they affect us in different manners and may require different treatments for relief.

Sleep Apnea and COPD

These two breathing disorders impact our everyday lives in a negative way, but are strikingly different in how they affect us. Sleep apnea is a disorder in which our breathing is interrupted at nighttime while sleeping, therefore disrupting the amount of oxygen our brain receives and introducing a whole host of other medical issues. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, or COPD, makes it difficult for the air we inhale to reach our lungs and the tiny little air sacs inside our lungs. A problem can arise when someone needs CPAP therapy while they are affected by COPD. This is known as overlap syndrome. A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine determined that there was a decreased risk of death for COPD patients (as well as sleep apnea patients) when CPAP therapy is implemented.

Understanding CPAP vs. BiPAP Therapy

 CPAP or BiPAP: Which Is Right for You?

For someone who may be treating sleep apnea, CPAP therapy maintains an open airway by using mild air pressure pumped from a CPAP machine through a hose into a mask worn on the users face. This constant pressure works almost like pumping air into a bicycle tire. By keeping the airway under continuous pressure, the flow of oxygen into our lungs is uninterrupted. While this pressure is relatively minimal, it can create an issue for somebody suffering from COPD since they may not be able to exhale properly under the added pressure. A CPAP machine will provide pressure prescribed by your doctor or sleep therapist at a constant rate, while BiPAP therapy uses two different pressure levels for inhalation and exhalation. This allows the user to exhale at a slightly lower pressure, making it easier for somebody with COPD to exhale.

 CPAP or BiPAP: Which Is Right for You?

What’s the Difference?

It may sound like CPAP and BiPAP therapy is the same, but there are subtle differences between the two that become important when COPD complicates things. As stated earlier, noninvasive positive pressure ventilation (NIV) works by giving the patient positive airway pressure through a face or nasal mask. With COPD it is common to have a harder time to exhale rather than inhale, so the use of a BiPAP machine may be more appropriate than the standard CPAP device. Bi-level pressure (BPAP) allows your doctor to set both the inhalation, as well as the exhalation pressure. BPAP therapy is often incorrectly referred to as BiPAP, since BiPAP is a trademark of Respironics. The Respironics BiPAP AutoSV Advanced Sleep Therapy System monitors the patient’s airflow in the circuit and adjusts to assist in inhalation and exhalation. For those suffering from COPD, the system can help by lowering pressure during exhalation while maintaining pressure to keep the airway open. They also offer the Respironics BiPAP System Replacement Accessories so your therapy won’t be interrupted. While BiPAP machines are solely manufactured by Respironics, some standard CPAP machines also offer Bi-Level Positive Airway Pressure. One example is the Devilbiss IntelliPAP Bilevel S CPAP System with SmartCode which can be operated in both CPAP and bi-level modes. A heated humidifier can be added for patient comfort and the unit automatically adjusts for altitude up to 8500 feet. In some instances patients may require a higher pressure to maintain an unobstructed airway. These patients can use the Devilbiss IntelliPAP AutoBilevel System with SmartCode, which automatically adjusts to the patient’s needs during inhalation and exhalation. Positive Airway Pressure therapy has proven effective for both sleep apnea and COPD patients, but understanding how CPAP and BiPAP systems work will allow you to make the proper decision in order to maintain your lifestyle and more importantly keep you breathing properly!!


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HPFY Kevin Cleary

Kevin Cleary

Kevin Cleary has been a Health Products For You contributor for many years and has a degree in marketing. His health and wellness journey has a very personal meaning and has guided him in his content writing for HPFY.

In 2006, ...

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