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If you've been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), there is a good chance your doctor wants you to wear a CPAP machine. Anybody that has one knows they can be a bit challenging. Some are bulky and not exactly the most attractive piece of equipment taking up space in the bedroom. It's easy for some people to ignore these machines and not wear them. But wearing a CPAP machine when you have sleep apnea doesn't just give you better quality sleep; it may save your life.
When you have obstructive sleep apnea, obstructions in your airway cause periods of apnea, which means there are long pauses in breathing, sometimes for many seconds at a time throughout the night. CPAP machines are the most popular treatment for OSA. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. A patient with OSA may wear a CPAP machine with a mask that fits just over the nose, or both the nose and mouth. The mask applies continuous pressure into the airway, keeping the airway open and stopping obstruction.
Why Use CPAP?
If you have OSA and are supposed to wear a CPAP machine, skipping out on it may not seem like a big deal, but there is a good chance not wearing it will lead to more serious health conditions.
When you have periods of apnea, blood oxygen levels decrease making your heart work extra hard to pump oxygen through the body. This causes your heart rate and blood pressure to both elevate, putting added stress on the heart.
Risks of Untreated Sleep Apnea
Studies show many people with OSA have hypertension, which is high blood pressure. This happens when the force of blood being pushed through the arteries is high. If not controlled, hypertension causes damage to the heart and vessels, and you are at risk for even more serious conditions.
If untreated, sleep apnea may lead to congestive heart failure (CHF). CHF happens when your heart does not pump out enough oxygenated blood to the body. Fluid then builds up elsewhere in the body including ankles, legs, and lungs, making it hard to breathe.
OSA may lead to heart arrhythmias including atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is a quivering, irregular, and many times rapid heartbeat. Periods of apnea with an irregular heartbeat could even lead to sudden death.
OSA can also lead to coronary artery disease (CAD). With CAD, a plaque is built up in the walls of arteries, making them narrow, causing restricted blood flow to the heart. This can lead to heart attack, and also may lead to premature death.
There is also a risk of stroke. The effects of stroke can be severe disability or death, and people with OSA may have a more difficult time recovering from any effects.
In any case, oxygen is important for the heart. Lack of oxygen, even during sleep puts too much pressure on your cardiovascular system, and eventually it can weaken.
Even if you do not currently suffer from any of these conditions, there are still good reasons to treat your sleep apnea and wear your CPAP machine. During apnea, not only are blood oxygen levels low, but carbon dioxide in the blood becomes elevated. This can cause headaches, memory loss, fatigue, and may even make you more dangerous behind the wheel.
The continuous pressure from your CPAP will keep your airway open so you can breathe. This way blood oxygen levels stay where they should, and carbon dioxide levels don't get too high. There may be other CPAP alternatives for treating your sleep apnea, so discuss it with your doctor if you have concerns. But if your doctor recommends a CPAP machine, wear it. It can save your life.
Authors: Kristina Diaz, RRT
Kristina Diaz, RRT is a Registered Respiratory Therapist and a health and wellness enthusiast and writer.
The primary mission of the American Sleep Association (ASA) is to improve public health by increasing awareness about the importance of sleep and the dangers of sleep disorders. ASA was founded in 2002 by sleep professionals as a member-driven public awareness effort. The article was originally posted at Why Do I Need a CPAP Machine?