COPD and Sleep Apnea: Overlap Syndrome
  • 07 Jun 2022
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COPD and Sleep Apnea: Overlap Syndrome

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What Is the Overlap Syndrome?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and sleep apnea are two of the most common pulmonary diseases and can occur simultaneously. When an individual suffers from both COPD and sleep apnea, the condition is referred to as Overlap Syndrome which can lead to a number of health complications. 

Typically, an individual with COPD will have fluctuating levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood during the day, but will get relief at night when they sleep. If they also have sleep apnea, the breathing is also disturbed at night, leading to further imbalances in their blood chemistry.

Studies have shown that individuals suffering from COPD are more likely to experience breathing difficulties while sleeping, whether they are diagnosed with full-fledged obstructive sleep apnea or just have some of the symptoms. 

In fact, up to half of COPD patients will also experience breathing difficulties at night. This may be due in part to the fact that COPD and sleep apnea both originate through the same mechanism where the muscles of the upper and lower airways do not function properly.

Diagnosis of Overlap Syndrome

Diagnosing Overlap Syndrome typically happens when a COPD patient complains of sleep problems. An overnight study is prescribed, and during the assessment, blood oxygen levels and sleep patterns are observed. 

If an underlying sleep breathing issue is discovered, the patient may be diagnosed with Overlap Syndrome. Once a diagnosis is made, treatment can begin.

Treatment of Overlap Syndrome

Treatment of Overlap Syndrome focuses on maintaining proper blood chemistry throughout the day and night. Efforts are made to prevent or reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea, often using a CPAP machine in combination with supplemental oxygen

If the individual is obese, weight management or weight loss may be recommended as well as the proactive use of steroids to treat COPD symptoms.

Treatments may vary amongst individuals in order to find the right combination of therapies and exercises to maintain steady blood oxygen levels. Once diagnosed, treatment works quickly, immediately improving sleep and the overall health of the individual. 

For those diagnosed with COPD, it’s important to discuss any sleep issues with your doctor. Early and accurate diagnosis is key to receiving the best possible care.


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