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Definition of CPAP

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

CPAP: Continuous positive airway pressure. CPAP is an effective treatment for moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea.

Patients with obstructive sleep apnea treated with CPAP wear a face mask during sleep which is connected to a pump (CPAP machine) that forces air into the nasal passages at pressures high enough to overcome obstructions in the airway and stimulate normal breathing. The airway pressure delivered into the upper airway is continuous during both inspiration and expiration.

Nasal CPAP is currently the preferred treatment for moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea. CPAP is safe and effective, even in children. Daytime sleepiness improves or resolves. Heart function and hypertension also improve. And, importantly, the quality of life improves.

At first, CPAP patients should be monitored in a sleep lab to determine the appropriate amount of air pressure for them. The first few nights on CPAP tend to be difficult, with patients experiencing less sleep. Many patients at first find the mask uncomfortable, claustrophobic or embarrassing. CPAP is not a cure and must be used every night for life. Non-compliant patients experience a full return of obstructive sleep apnea and related symptoms.

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